Get local news delivered straight to your phone
Support City Paper!
As a writer-producer, Luc Besson initiates international co-productions in which his preferred language is English; as a writer-director, he sticks to French. Whichever role he’s playing, however, he always keeps one eye on Hollywood precedents. His new film, Angel-A, is essentially a sexed-up Frank Capra picture, and though it’s shot in black and white, its sensibility is decidedly contemporary. Introduced in voice-over, André (Jamel Debbouze) claims to be an American citizen and globe-trotting businessman with a plush apartment in Manhattan. In fact, André is a Moroccan-born hustler with an unerring instinct for the bad bet. He owes so much money to so many people—including Franck, a gangster played by French cinema’s heavy du jour, Gilbert Melki—that he decides to throw himself into the Seine. Just as he’s about to plunge, he watches a blond supermodel-type precede him into the drink. He pulls her out, and then he’s stuck with her. Or rather, she’s stuck with him, since leggy, rail-thin Angela (Rie Rasmussen) is André’s guardian angel. (This information is presented as a “surprise” halfway through the tale, but it won’t startle anyone who noticed the movie’s title.) Through methods that appear to be less than heavenly, Angela fixes André’s life, watches him promptly screw it up, and then fixes it again. No wonder he falls in love with her, setting up a Wings of Desirenlike dilemma. Angel-A’s ease in addressing sex, and sexism, identifies it as French. So do the Paris locations, though unlike many French films, Besson sets most of the action in and around famed landmarks, playfully catering to tourists’ expectations. (Many of the interior scenes, curiously, are played in swanky bathrooms.) For all the shots of the Eiffel Tower and Sacré Coeur, however, Besson’s moral is all-American: Angela convinces André that what he needs is not amour but amour-propre. Amid a groundswell of recent French films that seriously consider the plight of the country’s Arab inhabitants, this beautifully shot but ultimately shallow movie informs aggrieved André that everything would be fine if he’d just adopt a positive attitude. Can’t get more Hollywood than that.