Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2007 7:38 am 
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An angel twice removed from Wenders plays shrink to a little guy

This Capra-esque movie about an angel who rescues a small-time con artist is a well-meaning but underwhelming effort on the French director Luc Besson's part to shift from his usual profile. As a producer, he has 88 credits; as a writer, 35; as a director, only 15, and this is the first film he made since his critically unsuccessful 1999 The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. 1999, as it happens, was the year Patrice Lecomte directed an ingenious film in tinted black and white, The Girl on the Bridge, in which Daniel Auteuil rescues Johnny Depp's girlfriend Vanessa Paradis when she jumps off a Paris bridge in a somewhat pale but watchable echo of Wings of Desire; and Auteuil turns out to be a circus knife thrower in need of a new partner.

Besson's film, at another remove from Wim Wenders but still in tinted black and white, has a another guy jump into the Seine to rescue a beautiful dame. He's the cuddly puppy-dog André (Jamel Debbouze). He was about to jump himself and the girl he rescues (though he can't swim: go figure) is a thin leggy blonde called Angela, or Angel-A (get it?), played by Rie Rasmussen. Yes, she's an angel, and she's come down to restore André's self-esteem. Shrinks are a bit thin on the ground in Paris, it would seem—at least when you're short of funds. (In 2001 Jean-Hugues Anglade played one for Beineix in another ill-starred film (Mortel transfert) following a directorial hiatus—but that's another story.) Long, verbose (and hard to follow) conversations ensue between Angela and André, who we already knew is in big trouble with a gangster named Frank (Gilbert Melki, back to a role that exploits his ready scowl). Frank wants a lot of euros from André. Angela scores a lot of them, in the film's most memorable sequence, by turning tricks in the ultra-tech bathroom of a stylish dance bar. She drinks, and she smokes like a chimney. This has happened—the angel-smoking-and-drinking part—in a lackluster American film, Nora Ephron's 1996 Michael, another of John Travolta's missteps. It must be some kind of smoker's and drinker's fantasy: if you live in Heaven you can't get cancer or wreck your liver. The film's other best sequence is the one where Angela sprouts wings and flies around with André clinging to her. The special effects are better than the conversation. But a filmmaker should learn to talk before he tries to fly.

Jamel Debbouze is a prominent Arab-French actor who had a major role in Bouchareb's 2006 Indigènes (Days of Glory), which depicts the plight of Algerians who fought for France in WWII. Costar Rie Rasmussen is a Danish-born super-model and film student who has lived and studied in the US. Luc Besson's attempt to do something more small-scale and humane is not going to win any awards, but it's a harmless enough way to while away 90 minutes. This took some time to get to the States, but they have plenty of that in Heaven; and meanwhile Besson has produced 29 more films, including the superb The Singer (Giannoli), the much-awarded Tell No One (Canet), and the atmospheric Golden Door (Crialese).

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