Meet Sam Riley.

British unknown makes big impression at Cannes

CANNES, France (AP) - A small film about a short-lived rock star is making a big splash at Cannes.

Control - the story of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, who committed suicide at 23 - marks the movie-directing debut of rock photographer Anton Corbijn and features a star-making central performance from British unknown Sam Riley.

A year ago, Riley was a struggling rock musician who had been dropped by his record label and was forced to take a job in a clothes factory to pay his bills.

Yesterday, his career trajectory took a sharp upward turn after his acting performance as Curtis dazzled the world's film aficionados and made him the unlikely toast of Cannes.

His role as the tumultuous singer from Macclesfield received an ovation at the film's first screening and he was hailed as one of Cannes biggest surprise talents after being plucked from anonymity to star in the biopic by Corbijn, the Dutch-born photographer turned first-time director.

The film, which is the only UK entry selected for Director's Fortnight, a sister to the official selection list, had its premiere last night at a red carpet ceremony attended by Curtis's former band members, who reformed as New Order after his death.

If the enthusiastic reception in Cannes is any indication, Riley can give up the day job. He is riveting as Curtis, an intense, charismatic performer who often appeared remote offstage.

Netherlands-born Corbijn, who photographed Joy Division for British music magazines and went on to design album covers for Depeche Mode and U2, said he knew as soon as he met Riley that he was perfect for the part.

Pale and big-eyed, Riley resembles Curtis - but more importantly, said Corbijn, he "had an innocence and a freshness that I was hoping for but never thought I would find."

Adapted from a memoir by Curtis' widow Deborah - played in the film by Samantha Morton - Control is an intense but far from grim experience. Shot through with down-to-earth northern English humour, it features a soundtrack that runs from David Bowie and Roxy Music to the Sex Pistols. Joy Division's songs were convincingly re-created for the film by the actors, who all played their own instruments.

Photo: AP/Andrew Medichini
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