Tabloid bad boy Pete Doherty is perfectly cast in French director Sylvie Verheyde's Alfred de Musset adaptation, Confession of a Child of the Century.
In the film (which screened in Cannes this weekend), he plays Octave, a world- weary roué in 1830s France. Pale-faced, and with top hat and cane, he projects an air of decadence and debauchery. In his voice-over, he delivers one-liners expressing his despair at the world.
In essence, then, Doherty (who arrived in Cannes today with co-star Lily Cole) is playing a 19th century version of himself – and he does it very well. He is understated, sardonic but has a vulnerability that stops him from seeming (too) obnoxious. The problems with an uneven film are not of his making.
Verheyde (among few women with films in Cannes this year) recreates the 1830s in inventive fashion. She pays attention to costume and production design but doesn't allow the film to be dragged down by the period detail.
With its accordion music and inventive camera work, the film is pleasing enough to watch. But it is a love story conspicuously short on passion.
After the death of his father, Octave heads to the country where he meets and falls in love with Brigitte (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a widow 10 years older than him. He woos her, eventually wearing her down by faking his suicide. Here the film, until now intriguing and enigmatic, threatens to stall.
There is little rapport between Doherty and Gainsbourg, a tremendous actress who gives a strangely lifeless performance. The ennui the lovers feel is liable to be felt by the audience too.
Confession of a Child of the Century works well enough as a portrait of a dandy struggling to overcome his despairing attitude to life. But the film is so slow burning that it threatens to fizzle out.