Reviewed by: Chris

Director Luc Besson is quoted as saying: "Cinema never saved anyone's life, it is not a medicine that will save anyone's life. It is only an aspirin." That doesn't mean we don't sometimes like our aspirin in posh packaging and that's exactly what we get with Besson's new movie, his first directorial venture for six years.

Angel-A is a romantic comedy shot in black and white, with subtitles. While it is not entirely without merit, the fancy wrapper, illustrated with a plentiful helping of Parisian photo-opportunities, should not lull you into believing you are watching a film of real quality or substance. While there is a great mish-mash of talent scattered throughout, I found myself wishing for the first half that a Hollywood remake could edit the jokes with better comic timing. "Your problem is that you're always running instead of hitting pause," the leggy blonde heroine (Angela, played by Rie Rasmussen) tells our forsaken and suicidal André (Jamel Debbouze), and that's exactly what it feels like as the verbal jokes are disgorged on an audience without time to digest or appreciate them, and the slapstick is wasted from lack of pacing.

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Fortunately things do get better, especially as we are made privy to Angela's mission. Having picked up some emotional ballast, the jokes have more to reverberate off. The best bit, after being given a mission, she tells him, is going to be wardrobe - on this occasion she has decided to do "slut" - which she pulls off very convincingly (although when she turns her hand to beating up bad guys she reminded me more of the deadly android Pris from Bladerunner).

Angela's rather more-than-human task could easily have descended into farce, but Besson cleverly chooses the moment of revelation to get more serious. From here on in, the movie gets more interesting, throwing in gender psychology and marginally more intellectual challenges. "I am you," she tells him - he may be a man on the outside but inside he's just a six-foot slut. The emptiness of the opening section makes this intense characterisation welcome and I could eat up such pretentious lines and tearful looks with glee. It even makes sure it doesn't take itself too seriously (the line follows on from a scene where André is getting changed in a women's toilet and Angela counters an elderly lady's vexation by insisting, "He's a woman really", implying he's transsexual.)

Although Angel-A has 'strong language and sex references' justifying its '15' certificate, there's no nudity and we are left wondering if even the sex scenes were in our imagination. Besson does succeed in getting us to think about Angels - as well as Fallen Angels, Falling in Love, and Why do Angels Need to Eat a Calcium-Rich Diet; but the idea of angels shedding some divine light into the life of mortals is heavily polluted with selfish wish-fulfilment.

In the Bible, angels were originally 'sons of God' who came to earth to sire children on mortal women. Later, they were called demons, 'fallen' angels, until the Book of Enoch cut to the chase in true patriarchal fashion and blamed women for the angels' fall. Here they ask us if happiness is not, indeed, in Heaven. A 2005 Harris Poll showed that 68 per cent of Americans believe in angels (rising to nearly 80 per cent in the less educated), suggesting that the film will be further 'cleaned up' for any American re-make.

Until then, if Angel-A is not exactly the classic it aspires to be, it's quirkier and classier than the average chick-flick and should be enjoyed as such. Much could be said in criticism of it, but for such a relatively humble offering it could be more divine to forgive.

Reviewed on: 26 Jul 2006
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Paris & philososphy, black & white, rom & com.
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Read more Angel-A reviews:

Hotcow ****
Paul Griffiths **

Director: Luc Besson

Writer: Luc Besson

Starring: Jamel Debbouze, Rie Rasmussen, Gilbert Melki, Serge Riaboukine, Akim Chir, Eric Balliet

Year: 2005

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France


Sundance 2007

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