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Grim but beautiful
Angel is a love story, but a highly unusual one. It tells two stories at once: the literal, real life actions of its two protagonists, which are for the most part sordid and self-destructive; and the unseen reality of the love between them, and their incredibly unlikely yet firmly held hopes for the future.
Fae is a young prostitute in Dakar, Senegal. She retains her self-respect and optimism by refusing to identify herself as a whore; she insists, half-jokingly, "I'm not a prostitute; I'm a gazelle!" She even refuses to carry the mandatory state "health card" which identifies the bearer as a registered prostitute, rejecting all such labels even at the risk of legal trouble. She keeps herself neat and clean, chooses her clients carefully, and avoids the usual traps of drugs and depression. Her efforts and her hopefulness are touching, especially against the backdrop of the realities of her degrading and dangerous profession; she and her colleagues joke casually about dying young.
Thierry is, or has been, a star bicycle racer from Belgium, who has taken some time off after a racing mishap, and come to Dakar for a vacation. It gradually becomes clear that Thierry is not doing well: he is not only verging on depression, but is developing a serious drug addiction that may end his athletic career. His trip to Senegal is mainly for the purpose of a drug and alcohol binge. There are hints of self-destructiveness in his behaviour.
When Thierry and Fae meet, it is love at first sight, the Romeo and Juliet quality of their instant connection contrasting sharply with the squalid circumstances: Fae is at a bar looking for customers, and Thierry, at his friend's urging, picks her up. They spend the evening together, dancing, talking, going for a walk. The outward reality is that of a tourist partying with a local prostitute he has hired for the night. The deeper reality of their bond is delicately expressed through several means: surreal visual imagery, the voice-over narration of Fae's inner voice, or sometimes by words or expressions from the couple which show they both feel, at some level, the significance of their meeting. Light and colour are used creatively to set the tone of each scene.
As the night wears on, Thierry and Fae grow closer, but begin to encounter obstacles, at first from their surroundings, the attitudes of others, and from legal issues, but eventually from Thierry's unstable condition as well. Even the confident Fae is inhibited to some extent by her awareness of her status as a prostitute, and this becomes an additional impediment. The story becomes one of struggle between an unlikely, socially unthinkable love, and the outward obstacles and inner demons trying to thwart it.
The acting, by the lovely Fatou N'Diaye as Fae, and Vincent Rottiers as Thierry, is understated but excellent. The content, it should be mentioned, is dark and often graphic, and not for the sensitive; but the very bleak and sometimes gruesome story is told in an imaginative and unconventional way that makes the film interesting and worthwhile.
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