French director Bernard Tavernier’s jazz odyssey set in the 1950s finds living legend Dexter Gordon portraying American expat saxophonist Dale Turner and collaborating with the equally accomplished Herbie Hancock (as Eddie Wayne) and the film’s musical consultant Henri Renaud on compositions both old and new.
Turner performs regular gigs at the Blue Note in Paris and is watched by a collective of hawk-like club workers and colleagues, and is denied his pay in cash to prevent him from indulging in non-musical highs.
He is a large and charming presence as he struts through the movie in his awkward gait. He is a man of the 1950s who is both a genius and a drunk, and he lives with the traps of the musician’s life, including drugs, alcohol and estrangement from family and country.
The entrance of Francis (François Cluzet) on the scene introduces a refreshing love relationship from an angle not often addressed in cinema. Based on the character of Francis Paudras, a Parisian who befriended Bud Powell, Francis is a 30-something freelance illustrator who has been abandoned by his wife and is caring for their young daughter single-handedly in a small flat.
Francis is down on his luck and in awe of his idol, Dale Turner. We first meet him listening to Turner’s music outside the Blue Note in the rain, separated from the real action by his inability to pay the admission charge.
He is frustrated, quick-tempered and perhaps not the best father in the world.
But when he meets Turner, life begins to change for Francis. In the beginning, his hero takes advantage of his quickness to buy him drinks, and Turner’s friends and band are slow to accept the newcomer’s constant presence.
But Francis creates a real friendship out of one-sided idolatry and draws Turner back to health, an inspiring payback to the musician he reveres.
Turner moves in with him and his daughter, Berangere (Gabrielle Haker), and the relationship that blossoms between fan and star is the real beauty of this film.
Based on events from the lives of musicians Lester Young and Bud Powell, this obvious labour of love addresses the lives of musicians with endearing and painful accuracy and reverent respect, along with the occasional mild cliche.
Hart Leroy Bibbs
Victoria Gabrielle Platt