Director – Luc Besson
Writer – Luc Besson
Director of Photography – Thierry Arbogast
Editor – Frédéric Thoraval
Music – Anja Garbarek
Producer – Luc Besson
Sony Pictures Classics. 91 minutes. Rated R for language and some sexual content.
STARRING: Jamel Debbouze (André), Rie Rasmussen (Angel-A), Gilbert Melki (Franck), and Serge Riaboukine (Pedro).
French Writer/Producer/Director Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, Leon, The Fifth Element) returns to the director’s chair after a 6 year break with Angel-A, a love story between a small-time con-artist and the angel sent to guide him back to following his heart.
The film begins with André (comedic actor Jamel Debbouze) delivering a misdirecting narrative to the audience concerning his state of affairs. We quickly realize that this “businessman” is an inept con-artist whose misfires are quickly catching up to him. He owes multiple bosses much more money than he can possibly hope to generate in the scant 24 hours they give him to pay them back.
André wanders around the city of Paris exhausting his options and coming to grasp with his bleak existence. Finally, he decides to take his life by jumping off a bridge. But just as he is about to take the leap, he notices a beautiful woman on the same bridge who jumps before him. He dives into the water below, not to drown, but to save her.
George Bailey should have been so lucky.
Rie Rasmussen is luminous as Angela, but she goes about her mission to save André’s lost soul with the most unusual means. Clarence would have traded in his wings if he had had to use half as much violence as Angela does. The violence, coupled with the way Angela uses her body to make enough money for André, could leave one to assume she is no angel at all. By the time the film wraps up with André literally wrestling with God for Angela, I was no longer sure what the difference is Besson’s version of Heaven and Hell.
Wim Wenders made a couple of films that also involve fallen angels (Wings of Desire and Faraway, So Close!) that are much more engaging and thought provoking. Besson has made funnier and more stylish films. And while this is a step up from Besson’s recent string of substance-less produced films, it doesn’t really come close to many of his earlier works.
The two leads deliver excellent performances given their confusing characters, and Jamel Debbouze in particular does a wonderful job of being tragic, funny and sympathetic, but the performances and fine black and white cinematography by Thierry Arbogast fail to save the film.
This film, along with Besson’s other recent directorial effort, Arthur and the Minimoys, leaves me wondering if he’s lost a few steps.