Review: Angel Face
by Bénédicte Prot
- CANNES 2018: The feature debut by Vanessa Filho, in which Marion Cotillard stars as a reckless mother who leaves her daughter to her own devices, struggles to transcend TV clichés
Angel Face [+see also:
film profile], the feature debut by France’s Vanessa Filho, presented in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival (which therefore means it is also in the running for the Caméra d'Or), brings Marion Cotillard to France – to the Nice region, to be precise. It tells the story of a fragile woman who dresses and behaves like a tart, and spends most of her time drinking alone in front of the (reality) TV – that is, when she’s not out clubbing, slathered in make-up and clad in sequinned, garish, tight-fitting synthetic fabrics, in the hopes of meeting the next guy with whom she can spend several days before sheepishly slinking back home and guzzling even more booze.
This would be a sorry state of affairs only for Marlène – and probably for the men who occasionally marry her, even though they’re called "pricks" right from the moment the bride sings a French pop song instead of making a speech, then messily cheats on them in the kitchen with a waiter, just when the cake arrives – if only she weren’t also the mother of Elli, a little girl of about eight years old (Ayline Aksoy-Etaix) who, despite her young age, has already learned to cope with her mother’s instability: she somehow manages to eat, plays along in front of the “child police” and silently puts up with her friends’ jibes. On the other hand, the little one finishes off her mum’s glasses of alcohol as well as those of the other people who Marlène chooses to party with – because she takes Elli clubbing whenever she goes out, and tough luck for the kid if she has to take a taxi home alone because her mother wants to follow some bloke home after meeting him in said establishment.
Again, tough luck if she also has to spend the following days completely on her own, with no money and no news from her mum other than sporadic messages full of unfulfilled promises. And so, in the second part of the film, we see Elli roaming around, drinking on the sly and bravely holding back her distress until one point when she cries out, confiding it to her new friend, another rejected kid who is actually an adult – except that he is not her father and is not willing to take on such a role.
Besides the presence of Marion Cotillard, it’s a little tricky to understand what could have earned this film, which is not dissimilar to the TV film version of the sappy nineties series Les Mercredis de la vie, a place in the Official Selection at Cannes, especially as even the Oscar-winning actress is seriously lacking in authenticity here. It’s difficult to ascertain whether it’s simply the fact that she has been transformed into the French Riviera equivalent of an “Essex girl”, a character that by its very definition is minimally authentic, or whether it’s a design flaw. However, judging by the ridiculous nickname that Marlène gives her daughter, "Angel Face" (an alias that reeks of supermarket perfume), and the predictability of the occasional decisions to go for a more cinematic mise-en-scène (the make-up scenes are obviously shot in extreme close-up – including eyes, mouth and so on – about as in your face as the film’s subtleties), one would tend to plump for the latter explanation. The writing for the role of the kid, which is as downright silly as the film’s poster, doesn’t help, and nor does the fact that the movie hinges on the very presence of the little girl, which is certainly moving but is, again, not staged with any originality at all.
(Translated from French)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.