When a young Australian actress (Leelee Sobieski) moves into a Paris apartment, her neighbours take notice, for various reasons – not always benign. But it is the man across the landing, the elderly Chinaman, Mr Zao (James Hong) who walks into her apartment and her life, gently insinuating himself and trying to find a connection even as he tries to befriend the girl, who seems intent on suicide.
 

4
Sobieski is a true talent, and Lang does a fine job in beautifully portraying a challenging relationship.

Sarah, Leelee Sobieski, is an Australian actress living and working in Paris. At the moment, she is understudying the leading role in a play, while secretly sleeping with Philippe, Jalil Lespert, who is married to the lead actress. Sarah lives in an old apartment, and some of her neighbours become interested in her, among them young Caroline, Marie Loboda, the lecherous Castellac, Jean-Paul Roussillon, and Zao, James Hong, a retired chef. Sarah and Zao develop an unusual friendship; he watches out for her, cares for her, cooks for her - they become soul-mates.

The film is based on a book, A l\'heure dite, by Michelle Tourneur, and Lang worked with the veteran French writer, Gerard Brach, on the adaptation; in the past, Brach has worked most notably with Roman Polanski on some of his best films, Repulsion, Cul-De-Sac and The Tenant. At first it seems as though The Idol is going to be in the tradition of The Tenant; both films are set in crumbling apartment buildings where nosy neighbors intrude on the private lives of the protagonists.

But Lang\'s film is different; it isn\'t a thriller, but a mood piece about an unusual relationship. It\'s a difficult, challenging theme to bring off but, thanks to the excellent performances of Sobieski, who speaks good French and does a passable Aussie accent, and Hong, who speaks bad French but whose face is amazingly expressive, it works wonderfully well. It\'s beautifully photographed by Benoit Delhomme, and there\'s a lovely music score by Gabriel Yared which incorporates glorious themes by Django Reinhardt. The Idol is a small but very impressive film.