Directed by Oliver Assayas, starring Maggie Cheung, Nick Nolte, Don McKellar, James Johnston, Martha Henry.

French director Oliver Assayas wrote 'Clean' for his wife and the film's star Maggie Cheung. However, by the time the filming started they were signing the divorce papers on set.

Cheung plays a lonely, desperate character and perhaps it was the weight of the divorce that added to her strength in the role - which won her the Best Actress award at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.

The story goes like this. Lee ( Johnson) is a drug-addicted washed up rock star on the road in Canada with his junky wife and manager Emily (Cheung). After a blazing row she storms out of their dingy hotel room to cool down and shoot up. On her return she finds her husband dead from an overdose and she is arrested for possession and given a six-month sentence.

A judge decides that her son Jay must remain with Lee's parents - Albrecht ( Nolte) and Rosemary (Henry) - in Vancouver until Emily can get herself off drugs and prove she is capable of offering him a stable life. Determined to sort herself out, and possibly land a record deal, she heads to Paris, where she used to present an MTV show.

Money is tight and she ends up waitressing in a relative's restaurant. Disillusioned, she takes a little something to cheer herself up and, after escalating rudeness, is fired. When efforts to get help from former friends prove fruitless she takes on a job as a sales assistant.

In Paris she is more or less alone with little to live for. She wrestles with daily life without her partner, frustration at having to do jobs she hates and the pain of not being allowed to look after her son. However, she gets cautious support from Albrecht, who recognises the importance of her being a mother, although his wife blames Emily for her son's death.

When visiting London to get medical assistance for Rosemary, Albrecht organises a weekend where Emily and her son can meet in Paris. It's Emily's big chance to show she can care for her son and also there is the hint of a record deal in San Francisco in the air.

Cheung is an iconic actress having starred in over 60 Hong Kong films. Western viewers may know her from the romantic 'In the Mood for Love' or more recently in the epic 'Hero'. In 'Clean' she is superb - flipping seamlessly from English, to French to Cantonese - and Nolte is equally exceptional - getting gruff kindness spot on with his gravely voice out in force.

The plot gets muddy in the middle of the film but this only adds to the sense of believable chaos that is Emily's life.  If you are fond of emotional dramas this film is a must for you.

Mary McCarthy