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Do you dream in colour or black and white? In his latest (- and allegedly last) film, director Luc Besson shows us the colour of his dreams. They are black and white and silvery, luminous and glowing. In Besson’s dreams, angels take form in glorious, sylphlike six-foot blondes with a propensity toward teeny, little miniskirts that barely cover endless legs gliding across the ground in very high stiletto heels. 

Angel-A introduces us to Andre, a Parisian petty criminal who can’t catch a break. Everything he touches turns to merde. Running a variety of failed scams, Andre’s got a lot of people unhappy with him. There’s no help or sympathy to be found, so before he is killed by any number of gangsters out for his blood, Andre decides to end it all by taking a flying leap into the river Seine. Even this goes wrong for Andre as his great plan to off himself is thwarted after he sees someone else one pillar down taking a flying leap off the same bridge. Andre, overcome with an unfamiliar heroic urge, jumps in after his partner in self-destruction, and out of the Seine Andre delivers the person who actually will end his life as he knew it.  

Lying on the riverbank is the nearly-drowned vision of platinum hair, minidress, and legs legs legs called Angela. Once conscious, Angela’s gratitude to Andre knows no bounds, she is determined to help her soggy saviour with his various troubles and she won’t take no for an answer. Andre kicks and screams but slowly and surely this free-spirited 6-foot hurricane transforms Andre and his entire reason for being. The question for the viewer is, who is Angela? Is she just a really grateful supermodel, or is there more to her assumed guardianship of Andre’s outer (- and inner) well-being? 

Andre is portrayed by the popular French comedian Jamel Debbouze. When speaking with anyone, the short, dark and hairy Andre has a tendency to grab at them or push himself into their faces to keep their attention, making the character like a persistent housefly. He’s nervous, grouchy and high strung, kind of like a cranky Chihuahua. His joylessness, helplessness and faith in nothing make Angela’s entry into his life so much more marked. She is all things airy and hopeful and bright. Her utter lightness is a perfect foil for Andre’s darkness, both in his physicality and his soul. Danish actress Rie Rasmussen plays Angela, and she is all long, outstretched limbs and a larger-than-life presence that makes the wonder of her character utterly believable. She’s a tall drink of water of a woman and instills Angela with complete freedom and unselfconsciousness. Rasmussen’s utter comfort inside her goddess-sized skin reminded me of another fabulous, free-spirited Amazon by the name of Julie Newmar in her 1960’s prime; both ladies completely self- possessed and glorying in their divine, over-the-top physicalities, so much so that it becomes a core part of their performance. There is a wonderful scene where Angela forces Andre to really look at himself in a mirror; caging him within her long arms and body like an extraterrestrial creature, her gorgeous head leaning on his shoulder. That scene embodied the way Angela had wrapped herself around Andre’s life, surrounding him with her warmth, her positivity and love. He couldn’t turn away from seeing himself the way Angela sees him and it is a cathartic moment for Andre and for the audience. The perfect match between these utterly different looking actors created a chemistry which is one of the most touching I’ve seen in a film for many ages. 

The other costar of the film is the City of Lights itself. If Angel-A is indeed Luc Besson’s swan song (- and I hope it isn’t.), then he’s said a proper goodbye with gratitude to the city that has served as his artistic inspiration. The breathtaking black and white images of Paris in this film are clearly taken by someone very much in love with it. The monuments of Paris, so universally well-known, appear dreamlike and unreal when filmed in the sumptuous, rich lighting of Thierry Arbogast’s photography. Ofttimes, there are hardly any other people for miles in scenes featuring some of Paris’ most famous tourist attractions, which meant the eye was not distracted by anything but the sheer beauty of the photography, and also helped to make the scenes between Andre and Angela, two strangers who come together in this most beautiful and well traveled of cities, even more intimate. Even the nightclub scenes filmed in the seedier backstreets have a texture to them that let you know the majesty of the Paris by day, turns into a very different animal by night. The overwhelming beauty of the photography of Paris, and the production design of Angel-A are as essential to the film as any of the actors. 

This film is an entirely different change of pace for Besson and marks a new grace and maturity from the man who gave us the groundbreaking Nikita and Leon. While both those films and others he’s directed were remarkable productions, Angel-A is a turning point for Besson stylistically, artistically, and as a storyteller. With Angel-A, he has given us a wonderful bedtime story for grownups that continues to charm, mesmerise, and linger in the eye long after the film is over.

 

~ Mighty Ganesha

May 19, 2007

 

 

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Photos

(Stills Courtesy of  Sony Pictures Classics)

 

 

 

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