Synopsis: Media mogul, leader of industry and high finance, Charles de Boislevé, nicknamed “the Emperor” by the press, is worn and tired of exercising power. Isolated from his family, who ignore him, and his colleagues, who fear him, he can no longer stand himself.
One day, as he does some routine shoplifting in a supermarket, he is caught by Merzahoui Rachid, a young beur hairdresser at Chatillon. The latter, seemingly not so innocent, is arrested by the guards.
Despite beign worlds apart, this unexpected turn of events binds these two men. The Emperor, seduced by Rachid’s vitality and insolence, introduces the young man in his world. Meanwhile, Rachid discovers the vagaries of power and explores The Emperor’s emotional bankruptcy.
‘On peut toujours rêver’ (which can be loosely translated as “One can always dream”) is a film that is representative of Richard’s desire to tackle more serious material – something that was always out of his grasp due to typecasting. However, armed with the power of the director’s chair, he managed to pull a few pieces together for his own benefit – if not his audience’s.
As far as I’m concerned, the problem with Richard isn’t his inability to play serious parts. In his comedies, he often played straight and proved that he could imbue his characters with heart and soul and, in the process, made them sympathetic to his fans. The transition to more serious oeuvres shouldn’t be so dramatic, but, thus far, I’d say his choice of material was a problem.
For instance, in ‘On peut toujours rêver’, we are offered trite material that has been seen many times before, and that doesn’t challenge expectations in any relevant way. To me, it’s nothing more than a far less funny ‘Trading Places’ and it’s pretty much a role-reversal of Richard’s own comedy classic ‘Le jouet’ (which was remade as ‘The Toy’, featuring Richard Pryor), putting Richard in the rich tycoons’ shoes.
His own is pretty much a joyless robot, which permits Richard to play something other than the sympathetic, bumbling fool we usually see. Except that he feels artificially stuffy, uptight – at no point do we believe that this guy is real even though he’s a stereotype that has been played successfully time and again by many others before him. I hate to say it but, in this case, the issue is Richard’s portrayal more so than the way the part is written.
His counterpart, played by French comedian Smaïn, gave me the impression of a poor-man’s Eddie Murphy – you could see where the writers were going with the part, making him street-smart, fun and cool, but Smaïn comes off as ill-fitting, as though he couldn’t get into the character’s skin. I don’t know why that is (Is he the opposite of this character in real-life? Is he a weak actor?), but I kept imagining Murphy (in his prime!) doing this ten times better.
I still don’t understand why “The Emperor” would be intrigued and then amused by Rachid; it completely escapes me. What is it that he sees in this relatively conventional, wannabe-cool, bore? Was it just that Rachid was written funnier and more endearing and Smaïn couldn’t deliver? Is this what happened? Or did the writers and/or Richard simply forget to give us the hints we dearly needed in order for us to appreciate him?
Similarly, Richard’s transition from stuck-up @$$hole to the more relaxed, pleasant fellow he suddenly longs to be, is far too quick to be realistic. There’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to this rapid transformation: this is a guy who has built his whole life on certain personal and professional rules and behaviours. This doesn’t change overnight; it seems to me that this should be more gradual, over lengthier stretches of time.
It’s easy to see what Richard was trying to do with this picture: he not only wanted to change his image, but he wanted to inspire. basically, he wanted to make an audience-friendly film that would offer everyone what they wanted. Unfortunately, for reasons that I can’t fully understand, given how straight-forward this material is, he completely missed the boat.