Midnight Madness Blog

- 2008
- 2007

I think I am with the majority of the audience in attendance at JCVD last night in saying that I was shocked. Not in your normal Midnight Madness sense, of course, where you may be shocked at the sheer amount of corn syrup being sprayed around or the number of fingers severed from someone's hand before you have to look away, but by an actual emotional performance. An emotional  performance by Jean-Claude Van Damme, no less.

What we saw last night was probably one of the most honest performances we're likely to see at this Festival. Van Damme leaves every bit of himself onscreen. His entire life - every problem, every breakdown. You are privy to his confessional, and it all feels very surreal. Director   Mabrouk El Mechri described Van Damme's input into the film as having "his own music". Almost poetic, huh?

See, JCVD isn't a documentary and it isn't fiction. It's somewhere in between. People are comparing it to Being John Malkovitch, but I think it's much closer to Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation than anything else. Here, Van Damme plays - and is very aware of – himself. He is placed in a highly surreal (and fictional) situation that hinges on his own celebrity. During all of this, we are privy to Van Damme's scenes that depict his innermost thoughts on his real life – drug abuse, his custody battle, and the culture of celebrity and the way it can build you up only to tear you down.

Now on the surface, the oh-so-hard world of being a celebrity isn't exactly treading new ground - what with the Britneys, Lindsays, and Sarah Palins of the world harping on it at every opportunity. But unlike these (especially the latter), Van Damme is a sympathetic character. Easily the most striking moment of the film comes when these thoughts are communicated directly to the camera in a powerful soliloquy. This speech rocked me to my foundations. and I can already tell that it will earn a place in my top Midnight Madness moments of all time.  Who knew that the star of Lionheart and The Quest could actually ACT? Is it because it is easier to emote in one's native tongue? Is it genuine catharsis?  Seeing the man who jumpkicked Chong Li square in the face in Bloodsport reduced to tears is, in a way, like watching your father cry. This person that you thought to be invincible shows a vulnerability that makes you question your own strength.

What doubles the impact (pun COMPLETELY intended) of this and his other scenes is the fact that many of Van Damme's lines (including the soliloquy),  according to El Mechri, are ad-libbed. This is Van Damme speaking from the heart, as though he has been waiting for years to get these thoughts out (kinda hard to do in Universal Soldier 12). It was made very clear during the Q&A that Van Damme is completely genuine here, and the El Mechri allows him to go where he wants to. This is the mark of a great director. To allow one's actors to hear, and play, their own music.

photos by Ian Goring