Being Claudine

| July 13, 2002

Being Claudine was director I-Fan Quirk’s thesis film at New York University, and turns out to be a more or less enjoyable look into the lives of young people trying to make it in New York City. Unfortunately, the director does not invest enough in his characters to command our attention for more than a second or two. Many of the scenes are shot through the knowing lens of someone who is very familiar with life in the City, but somehow, the characters don’t seem to complement this atmosphere. While the multi-racial cast is a welcome change from the Friends-or-Cosby Show way in which New York is usually portrayed on the screen, the director does so little to dig deeper into his characters, that even the main character, Claudine remains a two-dimensional stereotype. What could have been a mostly clean-cut but slightly quirky small-budget romance turns out to be a bunch of isolated performances stuck together haphazardly.
Justine Litchman plays Claudine Bloomberg, a struggling actor who runs from audition to audition without much of a payoff. And that’s only a part of her problems. German game show-host boyfriend, Hans, gives her more than enough to stress about when he disappears for days on end. This part of the story is actually more convincing than the rest, because Claudine appears to be seriously enamored of Hans. Even when it’s clear that he is nothing but trouble, Litchman looks believable as someone who has sold herself on the idea so hard that she cannot see the obvious. Claudine’s roommate, Violet, played by Jordan Cael, is a graduate student, and this gives the scriptwriters an excuse to add in a few riffs about Sartre and Derrida. In fact, the encounter between Violet and Jack, who is in Claudine’s acting class, is honestly funny because Jack, played by the charming Musashi Alexander, looks genuinely annoyed with the vegetarian food and just as genuinely amused by a silly story about Derrida. Claudine slowly sees that Jack is in fact, her best bet for happiness, and the irresponsible, cartoon-watching Hans was just a bad investment The last scene hits almost the right note as Claudine works herself up over what turns out to be a move to an apartment two blocks away.
Student directors are often tempted to show off all that they have learnt in film school at one shot: all the camera angles, the proactive editing, the snappy dialogue. Quirk avoids most of these pitfalls. There are some beautiful shots of Claudine just hanging out in her apartment framed by the light from her bay window, and Jack’s efforts to talk to Claudine as she rushes off after acting class are shot loyally in the Woody Allen tradition. Fortunately, there are few “cute” shots, and even the collages of Claudine’s auditions and her acting class performances are pulled off with expertise, at least partly because Litchman’s acting is beyond reproach in these sections. Somehow, Litchman doesn’t seem to put as much into Claudine as she puts into Juliet or any of the other characters she tries out. It’s very hard to figure out who exactly Claudine is. Jack, on the other hand, is someone who induces more empathy, because he is shown consistently as a frank person who has no major issues in life. There are also interesting possibilities in the characters of Violet and her brother, Eliot, but these are not explored beyond what is directly related to Claudine. The actors seem adept enough, so it is a pity that they did not get a chance to develop their characters further.
Being Claudine has been shown at several festivals over the past two years and has won quite a few awards including Best Actress for Litchman at the Portland Festival of World Cinema, and Best Director for Quirk at the Rhode Island International Film Festival. It is clear that this film had plenty of potential. With a little more conviction and commitment, Being Claudine could have indeed been a worthy contribution to the romantic comedy genre of Philadelphia Story, but the director’s lack of commitment to his characters, and Litchman’s unconvinced and unconvincing performance as Claudine make it a mediocre effort.

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