The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Roman Coppola delivers
a 'love letter to cinema'


September 19, 2002
By Franklin Harris

Filmmakers always seem to give a little extra effort when making films about filmmaking. Perhaps because it's a subject they know so well.

For his debut film, Roman Coppola, the son of Francis Ford Coppola, delivers a well-crafted and entertaining effort, which he calls his "love letter to cinema."

Newly released on DVD, "CQ" borrows its form, and just a bit of its content, from Federico Fellini's 1963 masterpiece, "8." And like "8," it has a title that begs explanation. CQ is Morse code for "seek you," which radio operators send when trying to contact other stations.

Jeremy Davies plays Paul Ballard, a young American filmmaker in 1969 Paris who edits a sci-fi movie by day and labors on a documentary about himself by night. He has a tiny, unkempt apartment, an exasperated girlfriend and dreams of creating a truly meaningful film.

Angela Lindvall is secret agent for hire Dragonfly.
Photo © Copyright Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Angela Lindvall is secret agent for hire Dragonfly.
Meanwhile, all is not well on the set of the sci-fi movie, "Codename: Dragonfly." The producer, played by the wonderful Giancarlo Giannini ("Hannibal"), is at loggerheads with his temperamental director, played by Gerard Depardieu ("Green Card"). Enraged, Depardieu's character puts his fist through a door — an incident based on one of the elder Coppola's real-life exploits — and storms off the lot.

Left with an unfinished product, the producer asks Paul to complete the film. There is just one problem: The film has no ending. As Paul struggles to finish the project, he finds he is becoming infatuated with its star, played by newcomer Angela Lindvall. Soon, he is unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality, imagining himself to be part of the "Dragonfly" movie.

For his movie within the movie, "Codename: Dragonfly," Coppola draws inspiration from several late-'60s spy spoofs, including "Barbarella," "Modesty Blaise" and Mario Bava's trippy 1968 film "Danger: Diabolik!" starring John Phillip Law. He goes so far as to cast Law as Dragonfly's boss.

Entire scenes are homages to those earlier films. When we meet Dragonfly, her alarm clock/computer is trying to wake her up, much as in the opening of "Modesty Blaise." A shower scene and a sequence with Dragonfly rolling naked through piles of strategically placed money are lifted from "Diabolik." And Dragonfly's conversation via television with Law's character is taken from the opening of "Barbarella."

For Paul's documentary, the other film within the film, Coppola draws from the French New Wave and from "David Holzman's Diary" (1968), starring L.M. Kit Carson, who, like Law, appears in "CQ."

Visually, "CQ" is a movie of the time in which it is set. Coppola uses the same camera lenses and photographic techniques filmmakers used in the late '60s, and the results are pleasingly authentic, as is the absence of computer-generated special effects. In-camera optical effects remain more realistic than anything computer animation can achieve.

MGM's double-sided DVD, which retails for $26.98, is packed with features. It includes a running commentary with Coppola and cinematographer Robert Yeoman, the theatrical trailer, making-of documentaries, a deleted scene and two versions of "Codename: Dragonfly," presented as if it were a real film with a life apart from "CQ."

"CQ" is an impressive debut. It will be interesting to see how well Coppola does with future projects, which may have, from the filmmaker's perspective, less compelling subject matter.

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