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It starts quite strangely for a movie about the life of a romantic
novel writer in the early XX century Britain, with a wannabe Danny
Elfman's music, an ugly pink opening, and an actress obviously too old
for the part she plays. But, as the movie goes on, if the strangeness
still remains, all this elements begin to make sense and create and
original, and I think, never experimented on screen, world. ANGEL is
indeed a really good surprise if you manage to accept and enter the
inner world that the movie describes, and the kitsch atmosphere of
Ozon's style (witch was for me unbearable in his previous movies, like
"8 Femmes", but that absolutely fits the subject of this movie). When I
learned that Ozon directed a movie in English about a young artist, I
was waiting for a sort of kitsch version of ESTER KAHN (the wonderful
movie another French director Arnaud Despechin made about a young
lady in Britain in the early XX century), but I couldn't be more wrong
: ANGEL is a sort of feminine (or Gay) version of Tim Burton's ED WOOD,
describing how a strong imagination no matter how bad it is can
completely recreates the world, and how you can fully lives in a
fantasy universe, when you believe hard enough in your talent and your
The movie tells us the life of Angel (Ramola Garai, who has everything to become the new Ludivine Sagner for François Ozon), from her childhood, where she dreams, upstairs the family's grocery, of the fastidious and glamorous life of a famous writer, to her success in the house of her dreams : Paradise house, where she has everything she ever dreamed of when she was young. The originality of this movie is that everything is seen with Angel's eyes. And her eyes only see what her imagination tells them to see, for she doesn't live in reality, but always fills it with dreams, so that she can live as if she were one of her romantic heroine. Whatever awful and sad the word might be, it never touches Angel, for she always transforms it with her imagination the way she wants. And imagination, she has plenty... Of course, her world is a childish, puerile and kitsch world of a bad Barbara Cartland 's novel and the movie completely recreates it on screen, with all the artifices it supposes : from the colors that explains the pink to the situations : when she proposes Esme, the man she chooses to love, the rain suddenly stops when he says yes, and a rainbow appears : empirical reality doesn't exist here, for Angel is unable to see it. But, and here's the all interest of the movie, the spectator, on the other hand, is absolutely able to watch it.
This tension between the strong believing that Angel puts in her world, and the ridiculous that the spectator sometimes sees in it, is mostly tangible thought other character's eyes (like Charlotte Ramplin is the more judgmental, she's the first to condemn Angel's books, but mostly for personal reasons : she can't stand the pretentious and rude young lady with whom her husband is falling in love, or Esme, the untalented painter, who is also one of this ambiguous character, for he accepts his wife universe, but is unable to really find his place in this fictive world). And the movie constantly plays with this two degrees, witch brings humanity, cruelties and sadness to the shinny but unreal world it describes. That's also why this movie is so surprising : we never know exactly where we are : is this a dream, when will it stops, will reality goes after it in the end ? This constant instability regenerates the spectator interest for this movie, and keep it far from the classical costumed movie about the rise and fall of an English women writer it could have been.
That's also why this movie reminds me of Tim Burton's ED WOOD, for, beyond their differences, they both deal with the same thematic of the triumph of an artistic imagination over the world, and the fall that fallows this triumph, and they also share a melancholic tone, as well as real understanding and compassion for untalented but passionate artists.
I really love this movie and keep seeing it again and again, as it reminds me very much of (as Ozon intended) the 1930's-40's epic melodramas and the role of Angel Deverell was intended to be like Vivien Leigh in "Gone with the wind". Even before I had read that I thought about this all the time.It's very rare to find nowadays a movie with modern-days technical perfection (brilliant colours and costumes and sound)but a 1940's style. Everything is over the top, unbelievable but for me going to a movie means suspension of disbelief, do we need a film to be like reality? I don't go to cinema to see reality, but to be taken to a different world, one of romance and it hardly gets more romantic than this. Read the interviews at www.francois-ozon.com and you will understand it all a lot better. This movie does not deserve the criticism it gets here as that's comparing apples with oranges. This movie is PERFECT as it is made almost flawlessly and in a (for costume movie lovers) very lavish way, a great joy to watch and listen to, not to mention a very energetic and passionate Romola Garai, who I will love to see also in "Atonement". A nice touch, in line with the 1940's style, is that trips to London, Venice, Greece, Egypt are made the way they did in those days, not on location but a filmed background. Nothing is very realistic in this movie, but it shows what dreams are made of and I thank the director and actors highly for many hours of fantastic entertainment. In it's genre it's just as good as Lord of the Rings, which also did not have to be real to be wonderful, did it?
I'm a great admirer of Francois Ozon's French movies (Swimming Pool,
Under the Sand, 8 Women) but this, his first foray into English
language drama, is a stinker. Adapted from a book by Elizabeth Taylor
about an Edwardian novelist whose life fails to live up to her romantic
fantasies it is as ridiculous, clichéd and overwritten as any of the
heroine's creations; hard to know if this is the fault of the source
material or Ozon's adaptation (though he has been assisted by acclaimed
playwright and translator Martin Crimp). You watch it in disbelief,
unsure if you're meant to laugh or not, faintly hoping that this is a
deliberate attempt at post-modern ironic detachment (but wondering what
would be the point) and gradually realising that Ozon thinks he is
Douglas Sirk and has completely embarrassed himself.
The actors look all at sea, particularly Romola Garai who can't give any charm to the unlikeable heroine, and Ozon adopts a stiff and old-fashioned style of film-making - complete with syrupy music and terrible back projections - which make the film look as it it was made in 1936 rather than 2006; I'd like to think this was a deliberate if unfortunate miscalculation but the consequence is that the finished product looks stilted and amateurish. Only Charlotte Rampling - Ozon's muse - almost saves the day, but her air of sardonic detachment probably says more about her feelings towards the film than about her character.
Based on the novel by Elizabeth Taylor, this Francois Ozon directed
movie was the closing film of the Berlin Film Festival last year, and
while it played out like a biography of a fictional character, you
can't help but to imagine how close it seemed to the flamboyance of the
other Liz Taylor being infused into the titular character.
Movies based on biographies, such as Miss Potter with Rene Zellweger and La Vie En Rose with Marion Cotillard, seem to follow a formula of rags to riches, and basically living the dream that no one had imagined was possible. Naturally, being blessed with a talent and a gift helps too, and with Angel Deverell (Romola Garai), hers was a steely resolve of wanting to break out of her poverty cycle through her writing, an aspiring novelist with limited life experience, relying solely on her vivid imagination to paint literary marvels with her firm grasp of language, constructing sentences like a wordsmith many times her age.
What made her character compelling to watch and follow, is her living in a fantasy world she constructs for herself, which suits her perfectly as it provides for and fuels her imagination with romantic stories to enchant and endear herself to her readers. It shields her from her insecurities, but in doing so, she slowly isolates herself into her view of Paradise, and becomes a chronic liar, which I felt she's constantly aware of, but is ashamed to admit any stain in the perfect world.
Delivered in two distinct acts, things start to change when she meets the Howe-Nevisons. Nora (Lucy Russell), probably her #1 fan who simply worships the ground she treads on, and offers to be her personal assistant, and her brother Esme (Michael Fassbender from 300 who said they'll fight in the shade!), with whom Angel falls head over heels for. And this stifling relationship takes a toil on all parties involved, with shades of possible lesbianism played down in the film (though I'm unsure what became of it in the novel). While Angel had her break from Theo (Sam Neill) the publisher who believed in her, Esme the aspiring painter has none, besides Angel who would probably say Yes to anything he says. And his portrait of her probably was the highlight for me in the movie. If a portrait painter needs to, and can peer directly into your innermost soul and bring whatever qualities he sees in you onto the canvas, then Esme would have succeeded with his god-ugly picture of Angel, reinforces meaning of being beautiful on the outside. but ugly on the inside.
The special effects were quite badly done, and perhaps deliberately too, as it's made up of very obviously superimposed shots of backgrounds that no longer exist because of modernization. Other than that, the rest of the production values are high, and the costumes too which Angel decked herself in, are quite a sight to behold, especially when there's a call for a change in colours to reflect the mood of the story as it wore on.
But what made this movie very palatable, is how Romola Garai carried the role through the story. You can just about believe the very naiveness and devil may care attitude that her Angel brings, however always seemingly able to hide and bury her true feelings deep within herself, and being a master manipulator also helped loads. Like how Charlotte Rampling's character of the publisher's wife reflected, you just can't help but to pity Angel, despite her pomp, flamboyance and hypocrisy.
So if you're interesting in a movie that provides avenue for an intriguing study of a person putting on a very fake mask, then Angel, despite its title, will be the movie for you to examine human traits which are anything but angelic.
What a disappointment. It's hard to know what attracted Ozon to
Elizabeth Taylor's fantastic source novel as his adaptation is
misjudged on a number of levels. Although he slavishly sticks to
Taylor's plot, Ozon has real problems with - or chooses to ignore - the
very things that are at the heart of the novel. Taylor's ironic, often
cruel wit is missing. Characters are softened in the way one would
expect of Hollywood, but not of French cinema. He doesn't seem able to
master Taylor's irony at all - the audience at last night's London Film
Festival screening were very confused about where and when they should
laugh. It was impossible to know what the director felt about the
characters. Almost entirely missing was Taylor's exceptional portrait
of class - one of the major themes of the novel. The film felt like a
classic Europudding - rootless in an implausible world. There was very
little sense of being in Edwardian Britain.
The film is overwrought and out of control. If I hadn't already read the novel, I would have been completely puzzled by what I was watching and how I was supposed to respond or feel.
Hmmmm... if the reviews and comments I've seen are any indication,
melodrama is as divisive as ever. I found Ozon's approach admirable:
intelligent and objective but not satirically distanced, like
Fassbinder without the cruelty. It seems clear to me that he is showing
us not a realistic depiction of Angel's life but a version colored by
her imagination. The intention is not to mock her but to allow us to
share her experience, and to make up our own minds about the value of
her fantasies. The closest to an authorial statement comes from the
character least sympathetic to Angel: Charlotte Rampling as the
publisher's wife comments that in spite of Angel's lack of talent or
self-knowledge, she has to admire her drive to succeed. Of course we're
not compelled to agree, but it strikes me as a fair assessment.
The reactions to this movie remind me of the uncomprehending dismissal of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, another story of a shallow, self-involved woman that insists on looking through her eyes. This kind of scrupulous generosity is in line with a tradition going back to Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and both directors have the stylistic confidence to carry it off. It may just be that they don't have the critics they deserve.
Angel Deverell (Romola Garai) imagines herself to be a writer. Night
after night she writes of her imaginative world. At school, she is
ridiculed for her fantasies, and her mother (Jacqueline Tong) has no
idea of her talent. A London publisher Theo (Sam Neill), publishes her
first book despite her arrogance and his reservations. The novel is a
bestseller. She writes another and another and another, and so on.
At the height of her fame, she meets the painter Esmé (Michael Fassbender), and is immediately stuck, even if he is even more arrogant that she is. And, sad to say, more untalented.
This is the key to this film. It is a satire of those stories of the period. There are only two serious people in the film. The rest are caricatures of popular characters and settings.
British writer Elizabeth Taylor's novel, based upon Marie Corelli, a long-forgotten English novelist of the 19th Century, was translated to the screen by François Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women), who also directed. He certainly captured the ego Corelli was reputed to have.
The life she lived or the life she dreamed? That is the question of this film. There is no doubt that for a few brief moments, Angel was never in touch with reality. It makes for great satire.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Watching "Angel" by French filmmaker François Ozon was a quite interesting experience. As often, when a film turns out to be different than I had thought, at first I didn't really like what I saw. I went into the cinema knowing practically nothing about what I had to expect and found myself in a movie with over the top acting, corny dialogue and a dislikeable main character. It was after some time in the movie that I realized, Ozon used the style of old Hollywood melodramas to enforce the pompous and passionate character of Angel's writing and to at the same time add ironic breaks to an otherwise fairy tale story. But still, Ozon shows a lot of love for Angel on screen and does not use the irony to demonstrate his superiority. Now, quite a while after watching "Angel", the film still sticks in my mind and crosses my thoughts now and then, which is a proof to me that I really saw an impressive work, that mixes an antique style with narrative intransigence unseen in melodramas of the old days.
Hungary's gift to world cinema via Hong Kong (her birthplace), the amazing Romola Garai, here really pulls off the impossible, aided by the deft and sure-footed Francois Ozon as director. Here she gives a performance so impressive that she actually saves a bodice-ripper of a romantic novel by Elizabeth Taylor but becoming a travesty, and turns it instead into a classic. This is one of those daring film projects which one would have thought had no chance of success at all. It is done with tongue just enough in cheek not to take itself too seriously, but because of the intensity of Garai's central performance as the over-the-top character Angel Deverell, and the earnestness of her great big eyes as she does it, the impossible happens, and the film works! Really, the result is astonishing! The sombre, toned-down performance of good old Sam Neill also helps, because he is so under-the-top that he quite compensates for Angel Deverell's wild and extravagant excesses as a character. A bemused Charlotte Rampling oozes suitable resentment as Neill's wife, and her narrowed eyes are used to as good effect as ever as she studies Deverell in the way that one would watch a snake glide across the terrace. (Or is it Rampling who is the snake gliding across the terrace? One is never sure with her, especially when she is peering from under those lids and being dangerously subdued, as if coiling to strike.) Francois Ozon is best known for SWIMMING POOL (2003), in which Rampling did one of her many excellings (she has been winning the gold star for a long time now). Ozon seems to have paranormal relations with outstanding examples of the feminine psyche, and without the combination here of Garai and Ozon, this film would have been one of the greatest flops of our time. Garai must have had to have this most caressing of directors looking approvingly at her every time she did one of her wild scenes, so that she could be sure from the feedback that she had not disgraced herself by over-acting. I just don't know how they pulled it off. The way Garai opens her eyes with that innocent stare, wider, wider, Ozon could be considered a kind of dentist: 'Open wide! Now wider! No, wider! Wider!' And it works. The film is consciously a parody of the traditional English romantic novel (you know those dreamy things which women read furtively, in the way that men look at porn magazines, both concealing these vices from each other, since all women secretly believe in true love just as all men think mostly with their organs, and each is ashamed to admit the truth to the other sex). In England these novels are called 'Mills & Boon novels', after the publisher which published so many of them; no man I know of has ever read one. Well, this story is set in Victorian England and is about a precocious 18 year-old girl (Garai, who although 25 at the time looks genuinely 18) who lives above a grocery store and refuses to accept reality in its present form, so to counteract her grim life she writes an early 'Mills & Boon' type novel. It is accepted for publication by Sam Neill and she goes on cranking out these corny books in endless profusion and becomes immensely popular and very rich. She buys the country house she admired from afar when younger, which is (you here have to remember that the cheek is suddenly full of lots of tongue) 'Paradise'. Here the director was very clever and used a real house called Tyntesfield near Bristol in the west of England, and the result is simply breathtaking. The art direction of this film is absolutely spectacular. How much fun they all had doing this! The character played by Garai is an insufferably egotistical self-delusionist on the grand scale, and normally one encounters this kind of role only with much older actresses, as for instance Gloria Swanson in SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950), as a classic example of the type. It is quite a switch to see a young girl play a character who is even more delusional, insane, and self-obsessed than Tony Blair, and every bit as ruthless. Such parts just don't come along for young actresses, whose opportunities to be demented are generally restricted to the more conventional sex sirens, nymphets, or other characters relying entirely on their sexuality. Here sex doesn't come into it, it is all romantic mania carried to the highest possible levels of intensity and, frankly, insanity. This actually makes a refreshing change, since women do have other qualities than desirability, though those of us who find all women intoxicating often have to slap ourselves to stop being so distracted by all those alluring qualities they have and remember that even more interesting than their irresistability is their MYSTERY. Women are a parallel universe, without whom there would be no Universe at all. We men who admire them can only stare in wonder, uncomprehending, at the miracle of femininity. We have such a good example of it here, so provocatively put before us in the context of a frothy romantic confection which gently makes fun of itself as it goes along, that the film might be called more of a witty homage than anything serious. And with that Gallic lightness of touch which the French so often bring to things like this, even when made in English as ANGEL is, the result is a film which could not be more of a delight. Sour-natured people, or those with no sense of humour, should look away now, to avoid being affronted by scenes of dangerous levity.
I've added Angel in my watch list about a month ago, after studying
-quite a few- of Romola Garai's and Michael Fassbender's performances.
Some of the films i've watched with Garai were: Inside I'm Dancing
(2004), Mary Bryant (2005), Atonement (2007) and The Other Man (2008).
She was brilliant in all of them. So she was in this film.
This is a fiction story based on a novel/screenplay by Elizabeth Taylor. It's kind of a biography of a young writer (Angel) with a not wealthy background that manages to finally publish her rich -in imagination- novels. What do you think, passionate love wouldn't knock on her door when she starts being famous? This is where Fassbender's role (Esme) comes in. Another artist, an underestimated painter who doesn't feel confident enough about his work and who also keeps some skeletons in his closet that will -later in the film- (much later) finally be revealed. Fassbender is a great performer but he doesn't get to shine here. Sam Neil plays the part of the overwhelmed publisher and Lucy Russell does a great supporting work as Esme's sister.
As i'm still new in screen writing and film structure, i found myself a bit worried about the way this movie was unfolded. Everything seemed so magical and dreamy and the drama was almost out of the plot for much longer than i expected. It had to make a turn! And it did and it was sudden, maybe a bit frustrating at some point, but you'll have your turning point eventually.
Since i've realized that there where practically two acts in this film i recalled the atmosphere, the costumes, the music and the colors that went along with the change. In the beginning everything was so bright and cheerful, then all turned pale and gloomy to show the depression, which you can clearly notice even in the clothes of the protagonist. There where only a few outdoor special effects that looked really out of date and weird for a 2007 production. I laughed and quickly forgot about them.
In a nutshell, it was a decent film -with a small cast- describing the intense, disturbed and not very long life of a young female writer in the early 20s, but nothing more to get excited about.
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