At once an homage to and a spoof of two signature styles of late 1960s cinema, "CQ" is an enjoyably eccentric entry into feature filmmaking by a writer-director who has the art form in his blood -- Roman Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola's son.
The title refers to an old Morse Code and ham radio signal sent to seek any kind of response ("seek you"), and it's reflective of the movie's main character. An ambivalent aspiring filmmaker (Jeremy Davies) seeking inspiration in 1969 Paris, he's torn between his desire to make a conceptual, black-and-white New Wave art film and his day job editing a studio's cheesy, sexploitive "Barbarella"-like B-movie.
Gritting his teeth over silly science fiction by day, he spends his nights locked in his bathroom, burning through miles of "borrowed" film on rambling autobiographic monologues while his live-in girlfriend frets in frustration. Davies' dilemma comes to a head when the manic director of the sexy sci-fi flick (played with comedic panache by Gerard Depardieu) is fired over creative differences.
After the studio's brief flirtation with hiring a hip, flavor-of-the-month young auteur (Coppola cousin Jason Schwartzman in a subtly scene-stealing, mock-narcissistic performance), the producers tap Davies to finish the film -- based on their strict scripting dictates.
Coppola the Younger (who has been an innovative music video director for some time) gives "CQ" a deliberately low-budget feel while taking stylistic cues from Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni and other directors from the era who are clearly also inspiring Davies' character. Meanwhile, the movie-within-a-movie, called "Dragonfly," takes place in a "futuristic" year 2001 (set miniatures include an aerial monorail, etc.) and takes on an enjoyably retro-campy quality. Its scantily-clad heroine flies a shag carpeted space ship and seduces a virile Che Guevara-type rebel leader ("Titanic's" Billy Zane, perfectly cast and sporting a satin uniform unbuttoned to show off his chest) at his moon-base.
But for all this attention to stylistic detail, Coppola's adherence to the methods he cops is uneven. The acting in the sci-fi movie isn't especially period or even especially campy (except for Zane, who knows exactly what he was hired to do) and while Davies' character is an interestingly inconstant cipher, his story arc is transparent. He wants to make personal films, yet feels drawn to the glamour surrounding his day job, symbolized by his infatuation with "Dragonfly's" beautiful starlet (model-actress Angela Lindvall). The sci-fi movie doesn't have an ending and when the producers tell Davies to divine one, his resulting struggle becomes a superficial parallel for the fact that he's at a loss for direction in his life.
Quibbles aside, anyone familiar with the era of filmmaking and fashion that inspired "CQ" should find it entertaining mock-nostalgia. Anyone not familiar should probably brush up on some of the following -- Roger Vadim's "Barbarella," Antonioni's "Blow-Up," Fellini's "8 1/2" and Godard's "Alphaville" and "Contempt" -- or this film might fall a little flat.