Thursday, 28 July 2011
































I have a rare day off from all work today. It's suitably wintry outside, with a dramatic thunderstorm beyond my window. And what do I choose to do on such a day? Watch a movie of course. Francois Ozon's Angel has been sitting on top of my pile of dvds to watch. As soon as I finished watching it, I felt like I wanted to write about it. I wondered what critics thought of it, and as I suspected, this little film seems to have been misunderstood (at least, in my opinion, but there are also a few good reviews). I don't claim to be an authority, but this is how I interpreted the film.

Most of the reviews I read were generally dismissive and negative. I can understand why, from one perspective. The heroine is generally unsympathetic, and the film is kitsch, melodramatic and stereotypical. But, that's precisely the point. It's melodrama, romance genre and kitsch aesthetic is not an innocent or unselfconscious mode of representation. It is instead a satirical take on traditional romance narratives.

The storyline is based on Elizabeth Taylor's book of the same name. At the turn of the century, Angel Deverell (Romola Garai), a grocer's daughter, dreams of a life of romance, riches and a happily ever after, which she attains through her writing and books. Making her riches by writing sensational romance novels for Edwardian women, Angel also sets on a path of moulding her life as if she were too the heroine of one of these novels, complete with the dashing hero, Esme (Michael Fassbender). Yet despite her often ruthless attempts at making her life reflect her romance fantasy, she quickly finds out that marriage and desire do not follow predictable paths. It is as if her own stories have betrayed her.

You don't have to like Angel to enjoy this film. Her childish stubbornness and willful rejection of reality are what drive the narrative, and whether the audience empathise with her or not is hardly the point. I feel a lot of reviewers just got stuck on this point of whether the heroine was likable or not. And my question would be, why do we have to like her? We don't have to like many male characters in other films to appreciate what they bring to the narrative, yet somehow female characters are often required to be 'nice' and nonthreatening.

Another thing that annoyed me was the lack of insight about Ozon's aesthetics in this film. It seems to me that the lush, beautiful, over-the-top and kitsch aesthetic was a way of highlighting how Angel views the world, which is shaped by fiction rather than real relationships. And by extension, this also implicates the audience, because like her, it is easy to lose yourself in such fantasy. It is a fantasy that also signals the unreality of mass-marketed romance novels, such as the Mills and Boon and Harlequin variety.

I know it's easy to poke fun at such popular romance novels. It's not my intention to do so here. The reason I don't like them is not because they are popular or are considered 'low-brow' by many people. That seems to me a rather pretentious form of criticism. Rather, I strongly dislike them because of their sexist gender politics and the way they endorse and create a limited idea of love, desire and sexuality. Their limitation is perfectly captured in this film. Angel's fatal flaw, is her inability to comprehend that the fiction she consumes and creates can be a rather simplistic form of gender relations that bypasses the complexities of men and women's real relationships with each other. That's what I found interesting about this film and I sort of feel you have to poke around beneath the surface of its melodrama to find its satiric heart.


SJ said...

based on your review, it actually sounds like a really interesting film. there's nothing wrong with kitsch!

(and as i've mentioned before, I really like Michael Fassbender :)

Felix Curds said...

I agree with SJ:) I'm assuming lots of the critics are old men with traditional/outdated standards. Whatevs dudes, this looks and sounds great!

Nancy Baric *negfilm said...

oh i thought charlotte rampling was his muse? ;)
haven't seen this one...and therefore cannot comment...
but yet another film on my list...
( favourite film by him is 'le temps qui reste')

Danielle P. said...

*sigh* What is it with reviewers that take movies like this literally? Perhaps they're so used to being presented things in such a clear-cut, obvious manner (as too many movies do these days) that they're unable or even unwilling to look below the surface... Angel is going on my "movies recommended by Hila" list immediately!

I love the photos you've selected to illustrate your review. (Oh look, cats! And hands!) Isn't that canopy chair wonderful?

Susanna-Cole King said...

Is it silly that what I was really fixated on, when I was looking through the selected screencaptures, was how much improvement my penmanship needs (ever noticed in old letters, everyone had seemingly exquisite handwriting?) and how much I've longed for a lap desk (portable desk) like the the one Angel has on her bed.

I don't think I'd ever been interested in this film from a standard description alone (I've never been one who's fancied romantic novels of movies), but your review has intrigued me ...

Hope you're well, Hila.


naomemandeflores said...

Looking forward to watch it. Ozon is a very interesting filmmaker.

Camila Faria

Sasha said...

I very much dislike when people dislike something (be it a movie or a book) because the main characters are unlikable. It's such a silly reason to dislike something, in my opinion, and so much can be lost if you don't dig deeper.

Which is exactly what you pointed out in review of this film. It sounds like it would be worth a watch.

Christine said...

I always like to see what Ozon does. You definitely made me want to check it out yet do a good job of reviewing it from a neutral standpoint. And why does that actress look so familiar to me?

Siubhan said...

Sounds like an interesting one - based on your review, I'd like to watch it, I think, and see what i take from it. I feel strange about Romola Garai: I want to really like her as an actress, and I do most of the time, just at others I find her quite disengaged, no matter what role she is playing - so perhaps she is perfect for this one.

I agree completely with your point about reviewers concentrating (predictably) on whether or not they find the female character 'likeable'. It's so transparent, and I have to wonder how many of said reviewers are male themselves.

CloudyKim said...

Wow, I'm so glad you wrote about this movie! When I saw the trailer, I was seduced my Romola (one of my fav actresses) and the beautiful aesthetics (of which I'm glad you mentioned). But I didn't expect all the darkness of the film. Woah!

I don't have to like Angel. I think her character was pretty solid. But I literally felt sick at the end of watching it - I couldn't help it. It was so overwhelming! That has to do with the dark plunge the film took, and not because of the director or characters are whatnot. But I don't think I could watch this again. That, or just stop it after a half and hour in.

The above fore-mentioned. said...

Hi Hila,
You make me want to do some study on the genre of Romance fiction. I have never understood it, but I admit to having never really tried. It is an imbalance I must address in the future. While I agree with your critique about sexist gender politics, and think this is why I have always been turned off Mills and Boon, I also know some fabulous women who read and study this stuff. And thinking back, my Mum went through a Mills and Boon stage that I will have to ask her about! So I appreciate your film review and also the challenge it has started in my head!

etre-soi said...

oh Angel, I liked this movie a lot but it looks like I'm the only one around here! I also loved the aesthetic of the film all the way !

Olga said...

An excellent selection of photos. If I smoked the hookah, I would probably compare reading your writing to doing that - it's something that lasts long and transports you to another reality.

Anything but Bland said...

oh my goodness the costumes look so lovely in this film! I must see it immediately! (I am a costume designer!) eep! I am your newest follower! return the favor?

love, polly :) <3

Emma Robertson said...

Oh my! I adore the stills from the movie. I want to watch it now!


ann.meer said...

thank you for your words! i adore your work! it's such a pleasure that you stumbled upon my blog!

Amelia said...

Oh this sounds like a very interesting movie. Will check it out thank you for your recommending it.

hila said...

sj: no, nothing wrong with kitsch, and definitely nothing wrong with Michael Fassbender ;)

felix curds: that's what I think sometimes! eh :)

nancy: rampling plays an annoyed publisher's wife - probably one of the few truly sympathetic characters in the film.

danielle: yes, I'd love that chair! and I agree, sometimes critics take things a bit too literally.

susanna: hope you're well too! and I've been looking for a lap desk like that one for ages.

camila: he is indeed.

sasha: it does seem like a simplistic approach - I mean, a critic is supposed to dig a bit deeper.

christine: oh she's familiar because she's been in so many period films - she's everywhere!

siubhan: I always wonder if they're male too. It just bugs - the whole double standards thing.

cloudykim: oh, the darkness was quite tame, I thought the film was quite light in tone throughout, even it's 'darker' aspects.

fiona/the above fore-mentioned: oh I agree - a lot of fabulous women I know read romance novels, I don't judge. I just have personal standards about gender, and I truly believe in them - they're not just theory for me. So I guess that's why romance novels bug me so much. If they presented different types of characters, I suspect I'd love them as I'm a romantic at heart.

etre-soi/sofia: I liked it too, you're not the only one!

olga: wow, that's quite a compliment, thank you!

anything but bland: what a lovely job you have, I am most jealous.

emma: it is pretty gorgeous.

ann.meer: thank you

amelia: my pleasure!