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June 25, 2007


angela-a 1.jpg

Luc Besson - 2005
Sony Pictures Classics 35mm Film

Luc Besson's 2005 fantasy is getting a belated theatrical release in the U.S., paving the way for the inevitable DVD. The film was Besson's return to directing, following the box office failure of his version of the Joan of Arc Story. During the six years, Besson wrote and produced a significant number of films, most notably the Taxi and Transporter series. Angel-A, pronounced like the name of the angel of the film, Angela, is a trifle in comparison with Besson's previous films like Leon or Nikita. What it has going for it is some beautiful black and white, wide screen imagery, a disorienting tourist's eye view of Paris and some of its landmarks. Besson even incorporates bits of other angel movies into his story, notably It's A Wonderful Life with its angels mythology and Wings of Desire with its angels and architecture.

The short, swarthy Andre plans to jump into the Seine, unable to pay off the two different gangsters he owes money. The tall, blonde and beautiful Angela is also on the bridge, and jumps first. Andre saves her, and the two argue about whether life is worth living. Angela acts as Andre's angel, initially in the symbolic sense, gradually revealing her true identity.

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Unlike so many of Besson's films that he has either directed himself, or had others direct from his screenplays, Angel-A is dialogue heavy. The banter is the kind that is reminiscent of the great screwball comedies. Maybe something got lost in the translation to subtitles, as the dialogue is less engaging than what is found in the talk heavy movies of someone like Eric Rohmer. There are some funny exchanges between Andre and Angela, but there is not enough of the action that usually characterizes Besson's films. I even missed the silly antics of the Besson written and produced Taxi (the original, not the wretched remake with Jimmy Fallon).

While there are a few chuckles from the contrasting heights of the six foot Rie Rassmussen with the much shorter Andre, the joke wears wears thin quickly. Besson, whose previous films are noted for their odd couples, especially Leon's Jean Reno with Natalie Portman, is less inventive here. Looking back at Besson's films, they are often about two outsiders, a male and female, who in some way attempt to save each other. As a screenwriter, Luc Besson has been extraordinarily prolific, and perhaps this may explain why Angel-A is less interesting than Besson's earlier films, made before his attention was spread to several simultaneous projects. Angel-A is a gorgeous film to watch, but often I would wish that Besson would return to his previous mode of more guns and less talk.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 25, 2007 11:04 AM