Saturday, August 04, 2007

THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS


THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS (France, 1998, Erick Zonka, w/ Roger Bohbot, Virginie Wagon & Pierre Chosson)
I felt completely with the others. At one with them. I was Lau, I was Marc, I was Remi. Maybe it was the strong wind on the beach which mixed us...

You may love Paris in the springtime: Lille in January is quite another matter. The transient Isa hits this northern French town with only the rucksack on her back, but soon her winsome directness wins her a place to stay and, inevitably, a friend or two. We know at the outset, this girl is streetwise: that she is also truly wise is the relevation of this unsentimental, beautifully acted little film.

The exact meaning of the title is elusive, but it suggests transcendence in what is otherwise a gritty and sometimes disspiriting human story. What are those images she rips from magazines to paste into cards to hawk on the street? Does the biker really call after her, "Walk in the light"? What are we to make of the yearnings in Sandrine's diary, the sense of Mystery, the imagery of wind? The same subtle nod to spiritual realities is evident late in the film, when Isa's story has become interwoven with the fate of a comatose girl whose survival is at risk – a sequence reminiscent of the pivotal moment in BARCELONA, handled here with even greater understatement.

Elodie Bouchez shared Cannes Actress honours with Natacha R├ęgnier, and truly this is as much Marie's story as it is her friend's. The events of this story are less about external plot developments than they are small revelations and transformations of the soul, and to see these changes in the faces and bodies of these actors is extraordinary. At the outset, Marie seems the prettier of the two, but whatever life has done to her – the film is blessedly free of psychological explanations – we only glimpse her beauty in passing moments. In repose, her face is lovely: on the rare occasion when she smiles (for all the wrong reasons), Marie is stunning. Usually, though, her guarded heart makes her face severe and plain, pulling at the muscles around her mouth, regarding us from under a brow or the corner of an eye, turned away as if expecting a blow. She despises her mother, dismissing her as a victim: "she won't look you in the eye." Like mother, like daughter. Marie's relationships usually end up transactions: money changes hands, sex is bought with a leather jacket. She uses people, and she gets used – and, ultimately, used up.

Isa's progression is a very different one. When we meet this opportunistic and self-interested street kid, she is worn and rough-looking, hardened by experiences we are left to guess at: the scar above her eye is never explained. Her hair is chopped short, her lips chapped and face reddened by the cold. But there is an indomitability there that is about more than just survival, and as compassion and insight grow in her, an extraordinary beauty is revealed. Her eyes are magnificent. Consider what is shown in bodies and faces when the two friends audition for the Hollywood restaurant: Isa is as open and unguarded as Marie is shut-down and resentful. Writer/director Erich Zonca based his film on a friend who exuded "serenity, grace and absolute confidence in life" – Bouchez embodies that to perfection.

Essentially this is the story of a friendship, of two young women blown together by the strong winds of circumstance. Their situations are alike, but their choices – and the inner character each reveals – are very different indeed. This film knows the comparative value of self-interest and self-respect – and, ultimately, of self-transcendence.

ROSETTA, MOUCHETTE

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