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Angel-A

Film Four Stars

If you've seen the trailer for this film you'll already know that it looks gorgeous, and you might think that this is just the high quality trailer talking, all the best bits pulled together and some extra digital rework. Well you'd be wrong, the whole film looks that gorgeous.

The next thought would be that if so much has been spent on the way the film looks, is there a chance that it's all just superficial? Is it all style over substance? Well it certainly is a common comment for Luc Besson films, although I've found some of his movies have had both in equal measure.

Angel-A falls firmly in that category for me. It's beautiful in many ways, not just the way it looks.

Angel-A.jpgYou can see from the opening scenes that it's beautifully shot and it looks gorgeous in black and white showing off some of the beauty of Paris. It's as though each frame has been considered carefully beforehand, and it's not just a passing fad either, this gorgeous view through the lens continues throughout the movie.

The lighting has also been carefully considered as it retains a very natural look despite the often difficult contrast with black and white film. Whether the filming is inside or out the lighting is balanced and natural, never overpowering the picture.

The score is another aspect of the film that seems lovingly prepared. It comes and goes, always present in your mind and helping to tell the story rather than to tell its own.

The plot is pretty simple, a man who seems worth nothing in life is at his wits end when his eye catches a stunning blonde, and she sets about to put his life right. The film is a very personal one which looks at beauty, what it is and what it should mean to be a human being.

It's well told with often simple and witty dialogue. At times, for example the bathroom scene, it is sharp, incredibly insightful and deeply emotional. That scene in particular caught me, and a few others, bringing a tear to the eye and a self realising lump in the throat.

The characters are very natural, with their interactions very relaxed and real. The dialogue just seems to flow, and nothing about these performances is stilted or out of place. This gave the whole film a very loose and natural feel, almost as though some scenes were improvised.

The actors perform wonderfully, especially the male lead, Jamel Debbouze. He has an energy about him and quite a captivating face. I was constantly drawn to the character when he was onscreen, and much as I disliked him and cursed him for the choices he made, I smiled, laughed and rooted for him. He has a great introduction in the film, and with each scene we see how the character is dragged down further and further before our hitting rock bottom and meeting his angel.

Rie Rasmussen is a stunning woman, and as Angel-A she fits the character and the screen very well. I was surprised to read her IMDB profile and see that she's written and directed two short films already, and starred in a Brian De Palma film. Here she is as natural and energetic as Debbouze onscreen, and in some shots incredibly imposing. There were a few scenes where her performance did seem a little flat, although it's difficult to tell if that was the actress or the required performance, and so these moments aren't too noticeable or distracting from the movie.

Despite all these positive words I didn't get totally absorbed by the film, and that's something I think is down to how good it looks. Afterwards it felt like I had been looking at a beautiful painting, you can see how gorgeous it is, appreciate the composition, understand what's happening in the frame, but you're not part of it, you're watching from the outside. That's what it was like to watch this film. So although you're not hanging on every word and every moment, the film is wonderfully warm, emotional and uplifting, and you really do enjoy watching the characters evolve and interact.

There's also a slight missed opportunity with the change of the character of André. There's not a growing change of direction in the movie, instead we see moments when he's good, when he's bad, trying to understand, and moments when he's opening up to Angel-A. The development arc of the character seems to be somewhat sporadic and doesn't peak then start to turn on the pivotal event when he looks into the mirror.

There is definitely a sharp change in the character, but it still pulls back and forth. I feel it would have taken me into the movie more and helped me connect with André if the arc was much clearer, and so after the mirror event and during the hotel scenes at the end you would have felt much more of his passion and understanding, and the beauty in his feelings would have been much stronger.

The style of the film looks great, except for a single jarring scene which seems at odds with the rest of the film. When Angel-A shows André how he could have behaved towards the crooked money lender the slow and softer style changes to a very harsh, contrasting one with fast cuts and a sudden burst of special effects.

Compare this with the other scene that uses a slow wipe effect during the mirror scene and you can see how the effects can work with the style of the film, however with this other scene it almost feels like another movie. After that scene passed I kept wondering why it had been there, totally at odds with the rest of the film and extremely jarring for the audience.

The ending of the film does feel somewhat over sentimental, but it's not handled overly cheesy, ultimately the characters remain very grounded and natural, and the sentimentality and emotion is welcomed, after all that's the story.

Overall this is a lovely story placed against some of the most beautiful images of Paris and filmed with a love for cinema and the city itself. It's strongly emotional and uplifting, with some quite funny and insightful moments.

There were a couple of scenes that I found incredibly moving and in particular the bathroom mirror scene touched me deeply. It connected something in me that I think is in many of us, especially in André.

Some have been criticising Besson for this movie, and what they think he's trying to attempt, and through their extended diatribes they've analysed cinema, his place in it, and if this is his last film as he claims, what he wanted it to be remembered as. Quite frankly I couldn't care about all that when I'm a member of the audience. Do you really pay your cash for your cinema ticket to ponder the meaning of this film in his career, or do you want the movie to entertain and touch you? I'd go for the latter, so whatever Besson was trying to do is to the side, for that short time in the cinema is the important time and it's the film that speaks to us.


IMDB film details





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Comments

Great review. I thought this trailer looked stunning and I'm happy to hear that it's not limited to just the trailer. I only hope we have the chance to see it on the big screen out here!

The US is on for a limited release in May of this year. It's definitely worth seeing, even for that one bathroom scene alone.

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