Friday, September 9, 2011

ANGEL

Francois Ozon, 2007
Starring: Romola Garai, Sam Neill, Lucy Russell, Michael Fassbender, Charlotte Rampling

I recently had a double feature with this film and Ozon's acclaimed, earlier film Swimming Pool, both works about successful female writers. The similarity ends here, however, as Angel could hardly be more different from Swimming Pool and it is somewhat astonishing that both films come from the same director.

The film is based on British author (not the actress) Elizabeth Taylor's novel Angel or The Real Life of Angel Deverell, about a young girl who rises from her impoverished beginnings as a shop keeper's daughter to find fame and fortune through writing. She publishes a series of imaginative, if ridiculous romance novels that are devoured by the public, but scorned by the intelligentsia. The selfish Angel is coddled and encouraged by her publisher, Theo (Sam Neill), who looks past her flaws because she makes him so much money. One of her adoring fans, Nora (Lucy Russell), convinces Angel to take her on as a personal assistant and secretary. Though Angel is initially a little repulsed by Nora's devotion, she hires her mainly to get closer to Nora's handsome brother, Esme.

Esme (Michael Fassbender), is a womanizer, gambler, and abstract painter with a gloomy disposition. Angel is instantly smitten with him and eventually convinces him to marry her. Though she is with the love of her life, wildly successful, and living in her dream home, things soon begin to unravel. War breaks out, public opinion changes, and Esme cannot remain faithful. In addition, he and Nora have been keeping a tragic secret from Angel.

Ozon's first English language production is essentially a period piece satire that borrows heavily from early Hollywood melodrama and even earlier theatrical melodrama that rose to popularity in Victorian England. Melodrama, with few exceptions, is a popular rather than literary genre, with an emphasis on emotion over realism. Angel is an excellent example of this, but is unlikely to be accessible for most audiences. The titular character is unpleasant, unlikable, and ridiculous. Her rise to riches and acclaim is a bit hard to swallow, from an audience perspective, and her final fall is more grotesque than tragic.

I'm not sure how I feel about this film. Michael Fassbender gives a wonderful performance as Esme and it's never truly apparent if he is a deeply flawed man with a good heart or simply out to take Angel for all she is worth. Romola Garai is lovely as Angel and gives an enthusiastic performance, but is simply unable to make the character remotely likable or sympathetic.

Though I would only really recommend the film to Ozon devotees or lovers of old melodrama, it is visually stunning and has something interesting things to say about the frequently unhappy nature of love and compromise, and the inherent selfishness of artists. But it does have Michael Fassbender. Check out the DVD if you're interested.

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