Sunday, 12 October 2008

3 Fridays, 3 French Films. Part 1: Angel

Film: Angel (Francois Ozon 2008)
Watched: 4th July 2008
Where: Cine Lumiere

Back at the end of July I had the pleasure of watching the following films: Angel (Ozon, 2007), Couscous (Kechiche, 2007) and Summer Hours (Assayas, 2008) on successive Fridays. Despite different styles and stories they form an interesting trilogy together about the legacy we leave on the world vs the legacy we try to leave on the world. What does it mean to try and leave something behind and what control do we have over it? Can this legacy be preserved or is it solely in the hands of time and others? The first film of the three is Francois Ozon's Angel.

"What matters to me is being able to create in the here and now. Will my work survive the test of time? I don't ask myself that question, it would paralyze me. Art can cross centuries, but it's also made for immediate consumption. I can relate to Angel's sense of urgency, her drive to create. Her pragmatism gets her out of her social condition. Her art is in service to her life. It allows her to buy her mansion, surround herself in luxury, get the man she loves and support him financially." (Francois Ozon on his website)

Angel is the story of a young writer who lives in the world of the melodrama she creates (or that creates her). The film is shot as a parody/homage to such melodramas, think a little touch of Sunset Boulevard peformance, complete with a cheesy score, hilarious back projection montage scenes and no end of romantic clich├ęs. Angel Deverell wants to be a somebody, a rich lady who lives in Paradise House with servants and the love of her life. However, Angel Deverell is a sickly school girl writing in her bedroom, an outsider, a grocer's daughter (Shades of Maggie Thatcher anyone?). The film opens with Angel out in the snow looking through the gates to Paradise House. Angel is a master of fantasy, writing about a world she has no real experience of (opening champagne with a corkscrew, child birth etc.) in fact she has almost no life experience outside of the family business and her servant aunt's tales from from Paradise House. By some fantastic miracle Angel's books become a roaring success, they are adapted into plays and she becomes the toast of the town. However, what is any young woman without a man at her side, one who will complement her. After watching an adaptation of one of her novels, Angel meets Esme, a painter and it's love at first sight. Esma is Angel's opposite, he comes from a wealthy background, he tries to create something real in his art, not just capture what he is asked to. Esme's work goes largely unrecognised. Angel becomes obsessed with Esme and his paintings and eventually they marry and with all Angel's money from her novels they move in to Paradise house together, complete with servants and all the trappings. Angel has everything that she ever wanted, Paradise house is hers and is great again and she is married to the love of her life. Angel's dream turns sour, Esme has an affair, and later kills himself. After his death Esme is recognised as a great artist, Angel slips into obscurity - she even finds herself being interviewed about Esme's work after his death, nobody is interested in her novels anymore. One night Angel finds herself outside in the snow looking for her kitten and eventually dies from the cold.

What makes Ozon's film so great and original? The style of the film creates a continued uncertainty. We see everything how Angel imagines/sees it, through her rose tinted and innocent eyes. We have the link from her beginnings as a writer, sat in bed after catching a chill from being out in the snow by Paradise House, to her death from a chill chasing a cat in the snow outside Paradise House. To me it feels like Angel never leaves her bed, she ages but she never grows up. Her experiences never seem real, she gets what she asks for and realises what that means. She never really experiences anything but herself. Like film itself Angel's childhood dreams are trapped forever, she cannot truly grow up and what is left behind does not change, even in her dream she is born a nobody and dies a nobody. Her husband Esme also tries to escape the life he is born into, he chooses to live in poverty and to suffer in order to make his art, to go to war, to have affairs. He wants to feel what life is and not escape it.
Esme is born a somebody and after his death he is not forgotten. Esme is also trapped forever like film, he is unable to find real recognition until he has escaped the film by taking his own life much like his art.

Judging by many of the comments on this film it seems Ozon's work is a success, he has made a film for today about today and for those of us who love it, we see what Angel sees in Esme, a great artist. For those of us that loathe it, we see what the world sees of Angel once the dust has settled. Whilst Ozon says he is making something in the here and now it's also something that draws on his experience and love... I suppose if you prefer celebrity and blockbuster to cinema and its history then you will have no interest in Angel.

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