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As the film opens, a doped-up Lea (Maria Bonnevie) makes an extremely bad impression on her baby daughter's foster parents; later, flashbacks reveal her disturbing youth and young adulthood. From the wrong side of the tracks, Lea grows up in a small house on the edge of the forest. When her father dies, her fragile mother Madelene takes up with the jealous alcoholic Ole. Unable to prevent Madelene from being beaten, Lea winds up as a substance abuser. Written by
Palm Springs Internation Film Festival
Norwegian screenwriter and director Margreth Olin's feature film debut which she also wrote, is partly based on her unpublished documentary "Pias verden" which was shelved due to the life situation of the person the director was portraying. It premiered in the Discovery section at the 34th Toronto International Film Festival in 2009, was shot on location in Norway and is a Norway-Sweden-Finland co-production which was produced by Norwegian screenwriter, producer and director Thomas Robsham. It tells the story about Lea who is just a little girl when her mother named Madeleine invites her ex-boyfriend named Ole into their home. The first time with the new family member seems promising and Lea looks at Ole as a helper sent from heaven, but when the reunited lovers redecorates their home into an open arena of drunkenness and violence, Lea becomes a helpless witness to Ole's abusive treatment of her mother. Lea is wise and strong, but as time passes the environment around her becomes so unbearable that she seeks comfort in the substance that has deprived her from the relationship she once had to her mother.
Margreth Olin's newest film draws a fictitious though close to real life portrait of a woman's battle to get out of her drug addiction so that she can regain custody of her adolescent daughter. While notable for it's naturalistic milieu depictions, fine cinematography by Norwegian graphic designer and writer Kim Hiorthøy and editing by Norwegian film editor Helge Billing, the Norwegian filmmaker's social realistic style is as present here as it was in her thematically related novel film "Lullaby" (2006), and with her characteristic voice-over narration she functions both as the films all-knowing narrator and Lea's inner monologue. The filming is often hand-held, close ups are frequently used, the perspectives are plentiful and the filmmaker repeatedly uses extreme close ups where she zooms in on various parts of the human body, a technique that was prominent in Danish director Susanne Bier's films "Open Hearts" (2002), "Brothers" (2004) and "Things We Lost in the Fire" (2007). It also contains minimally movable scenes of lesser crowds, numerous still images, observational slow motion scenes, scenes of flowers dancing in the wind and several representative individual scenes of a lonely Lea playing at her room or out in the woods where she has created her own private comfort zones.
Narrated with a fragmented narrative structure, mostly from the protagonist's point of view and through frequent use of flashback scenes the background story to this intimate character portrait which opens with the image of a defeated woman standing in a dirty toilet with her pants down on her knees and a syringe in her rear end, is unfolded. The cogent narrative structure which works well in this case creates a significant unpredictability and paralleled with the atmospheric music by Norwegian musicians Thomas Dybdahl, Rebekka Karijord, Kari Rueslåtten, Björnstjärne and The White Birch, it enriches the pace. This dense biographical drama examines themes like drug addiction, longing, neglect, solitude and destructive love, but the main theme is as it was in the director's documentary "Kroppen min" (2002), the relationship between a mother and her child. In one of the films strongest and most contrasting scenes, composed to Thomas Dybdahls song "From Grace", Lea meets Henrik whom she falls in love with and has a daughter called Sonja with. During the four minutes this song lasts the director visualizes the main character's first experience of true happiness and how sporadic happiness can be when she shortly after the song ends, shows the image of Lea's first heroin injection.
The acting performances by Swedish actress Gunilla Röör "Under the Sun" (1998) and Finnish actor Antti Reini "Il Capitano" (1991) are commendable and Norwegian actress Maria Bonnevie gets across the heroines strength and fragility in her most notable acting performance since the one she delivered in Andrey Zvyagintsev's "The Banishment" (2007). In a literary and lyrical way "Angel" manages to convey hope's existence in the darkest imagined life situations. It is one of the best Norwegian feature film debuts in years and Margreth Olin's loyal poem to her brave friend is a respectable and charitable salutation to human dignity.
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