Working entirely in French and shooting in Paris, director Samantha Lang has fashioned a spellbinding tale that shows her at the height of her powers. Wonderfully supported by a talented cast led by Leelee Sobieski and James Hong, L'Idole is a brilliantly crafted film that is at once disturbing and affirming.
Sobieski plays Sarah, a young actress who moves into a rambling old apartment block peopled by an odd assortment of aging and endlessly curious tenants. Initially, she is accompanied by her boyfriend, with whom she engages in gymnastic sex. But he is soon dumped, arousing the benign - and not-so-benign - interests of a couple of older men, one of whom has ogled her shamelessly. The other, Zao (Hong), is an elderly, refined Chinese man with whom Sarah begins a relationship that forms the core of this exquisitely conceived film.
Zao slowly becomes intrigued by his beautiful new neighbour and begins entering Sarah's open doorway with increasing frequency. The day she reveals her plans for destructive revenge,he proposes a pact: he will cook for her until the fateful date. Thus a bond is forged, portrayed by Lang with loving care.Zao is a consummate gentleman and his old-world charms soon win over Sarah, who has known only the selfish behaviour of loutish boyfriends. He brings order and serenity into her life, treats her like a lady and prepares magnificent, visually beautiful meals for her. He is connected with all the senses and his sensuality slowly carries over into an ambiguously erotic relationship, subtly depicted by the actors and filmed with immense sensitivity. However, as Sarah's behaviour becomes more and more erratic, Zao finds that he must call upon all his inner resources to deal with his own growing emotions.
Reflective, serene and spiritual, L'Idole is truly erotic when it needs to be, but this is only one of its delights. The film is a meditation on despair, generosity and the power of the spirit to challenge the forces of darkness - and a tale of youth and age meeting on a strange battlefield.