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2 September, 2006

Review: 'Angel-A' (2005)

It'd be unlike me to recommend a sentimental romantic comedy, but that's precisely what I'm doing.

Luc Besson's penultimate feature film (he said he'd direct ten in the course of his career and, including 'Nikita', 'Léon' and 'The Fifth Element', he's now made ten. I hope he reconsiders.) explores a very simple premise. André, a failed fraudster, is driven to suicide by his debts. At the final moment, when he's already on the wrong side of a Parisian bridge parapet, an angel, Angela, appears and, as the film progresses, tries to teach him to like himself.

The casting was excellent. Jamel Debbouze made a perfect gnome-like Algerian immigrant with 'sad puppy' eyes and Rie Rasmussen, over 6' tall in heels, was suitably inhumanly attractive. André's rumpled raincoat mirrored his personality, whereas Angela's tiny black dress was... startling. That itself was a valuable device, emphasising her sexuality as a metaphor of considerable, apparent yet barely restrained, power over others (which itself can be one definition of sexuality, of course).
Incidentally, there's a stereotype that supermodels can't act, other than as clothes horses. I have no complaints about Rasmussen's performance; I wasn't aware of her acting being acting, which has to be praise.

Ostensibly in very different genres, I suppose there are thematic similarities between this and 'The Fifth Element', and they're both centred on supernatural female leads played by supermodels. As André says, it's easy to talk about inner beauty if you've already got external beauty covered, and 'Angel-A' is even closer to the line between worship and objectification. To be fair, that analysis only occurred to me afterwards – perhaps I'm being more cynical than the film deserves.
Angela is unmistakably a male creation, but arguably that fits the situation. André desperately needs to experience beauty, and this isn't 'It's A Wonderful Life' – André isn't about to respond to familial love, comradely friendships or community spiritedness, and a somewhat homely angel like Clarence really wouldn't get through to him.

The film is set in the most picturesque parts of central Paris, and I suspect the local tourist board are very pleased with Besson. The city does indeed look beautiful, as André gradually realises. Curiously, apart from those people André & Angela specifically meet, the streets are almost deserted, even around major landmarks. The film already acquires a stark intensity from being in black & white, but the empty spaces and lack of human distractions magnify the effect.

A suspension of cynicism is required, never mind suspension of disbelief. It is an obvious film, and the subplots are almost formulaic. For example, one wonders whether Angela really is an angel or just usefully delusional, and the issue is addressed directly. I can imagine that if it caught me in the wrong mood, the film's lack of convolution and darkness might annoy me, but somehow it simply works, and is totally enchanting. I'm not complaining.


when last i asked, you had yet to watch have you gotten around to it yet?

Posted by jackie at September 4, 2006 01:14 AM

Sorry; forgot!

It's... deep. Whilst watching, I thought it a little sterile, focusing on detail and technique at the expense of emotion, but I forgot that Kieślowski required the audience to interpret the emotional side for ourselves. It stayed with me, and my appreciation has developed. I need to see it again, and am pretty sure I'll get (even) more out of it.

Posted by NRT at September 6, 2006 11:18 AM
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