A friend has been recommending Angela-A (2005) by Luc Besson to me for a while and recently finally gave me the DVD of it so I could watch it.
Although I enjoyed Angel-A, I don’t think it is an easy film to write about as so much of what is interesting about it comes from the beautiful cinematography and the style of the film. That being said, I am going to try writing about it and we’ll see how it goes.
The film revolves around Andre, a down on his luck Parisian who has got himself in trouble with gangsters and has racked up in various debts in Paris. At the end of his tether, Andre attempts to jump off a bridge into the Seine. He is saved from doing so, however, as the mysterious and beautiful Angela throws herself off the bridge before he has the chance to do the same and he feels compelled to save her. After Andre rescue Angela, she pledges herself to Andre and the pair then travel around Paris, visiting the people Andre has got himself into trouble with. Angela certainly adopts some questionable methods of dealing with these problems, including seemingly prostituting herself in a club with numerous men to help Andre make some money, during which he becomes increasingly drunk and unhappy with what she is doing. Ultimately, however, Angela shows Andre that he must first solve his inner issues of not liking himself in order to sort his outward problems. There is a very strong element of magical realism running through the film, as both Andre and the audience find themselves questioning whether Angela is of this world.
Among the many things I liked about Angel-A, the cinematography really stood out. There are some really beautiful shots of an eerily empty Paris in the film. The cinematography is also utilised in an intriguing way to both question and highlight Angela’s status as a possible supernatural being. I also love the way that the two characters are shot in order to constantly accentuate Angela’s height in comparison to Andre’s shortness. The black and white colour pallet of the film also highlights other stark differences between the two characters. Angela sexiness, confidence and blondness is juxtaposed against Andre’s down and outnesss, his Moroccan looks and his lack of confidence. I think the audience is also asked to see other things in this film as simply black and white; there are bad characters who are punished by Angela and characters who are good at heart who are rewarded for being so. To that end, I think that the choice to film in black and white not only lets the soul of the ‘City of Lights’ shine through, but also acts to highlight these parallels.
Angela herself is an intriguing character. She is not afraid of doing things that are generally seen as being immoral as long as she is doing them for the right reasons. She does not make things easy for Andre, but as she teaches him that the most important thing he can do is to love himself, she grows to love him. Although I did find the performances of Rie Rasmussen as Angela and of Jamel Debbouze as Andre, fascinating to watch, I didn’t think that there was enough chemistry between the two to lead me to believe that they would ever sacrifice everything for each other as they ultimately do.
An aspect of the film which I did find disappointing, however, was that in the end it is made entirely unambiguous that Angela is in actual fact an angel. I would rather that this had never been confirmed as I like the ambiguity of not knowing whether she is just deluded and helping Andre through unconventional means or whether she really is an angel. Having said that, I did find the idea of her becoming a literal fallen angel very interesting and thought this scene was visually very appealing.
A final reason that I enjoyed Angel-A is that it is highly reminiscent of two of my favourite films.
Angela-A has many similarities to It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) from the key scene where an angel jumps from a bridge to save the life of a man with suicidal thoughts, to the very idea of a guardian angel and the way in which both films end in a downtrodden man turning his life around by learning to love and appreciate himself.
It is also very similar to Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire (1987), as both films are shot in black and white, both allow a major European city to shine as a character in the film and, in both, a romantic relationship between a human and angel ultimately leads to the angel becoming ‘fallen’.
All in all, I think Angel-A is certainly a very visually striking film to watch, especially when it comes to the magical realist cinematography and the beautiful night-time shots of Paris, even if I do wish it had ended in a different way.