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Dream Life of Angels

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The Dream Life Of Angels
cast: Élodie Bouchez, Natacha Régnier, Jo Prestia, Grégoire Colin, and Patrick Mercado

director: Erick Zonca

108 minutes (18) 1998
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Bless Arrow Films for releasing Erick Zonca's The Dream Life Of Angels (aka: La Vie rêvée des anges) to DVD. Apart from a short theatrical stint the film popped up on terrestrial television at a time when BBC2 was having a brief love affair with foreign films, the channel having a particular preference for something French.

The Dream Life Of Angels is an atypically French work, a gradualist exercise, the sum of its parts and it is only as it draws to a close it is realised you have sat through something a little special. It therefore opens unassumingly, a girl on the hoof, in Lille during a brassy winter, arriving at an address where the expected occupant is away abroad. Isa has been bumming her way around France. She breaks into his food van and stays there the night. She tries to raise a few francs without outright begging, clipping images from magazines and creating simple blank verse cards. She springs a white lie on passers-by that they are for a charity to help sell them. Along the way she has convinced herself that this is work, that she is the charity and the result is her small salary.

Boyish with her spiky close-cropped black hair, Isa is the eternal optimist and when offered a job jumps to it, not deterred by her lack of skill. In the sewing shop she meets the blonde Marie (Natacha Régnier), who has the expertise and learning abilities but not the spirit or the trustfulness to pursue a normal life. Marie puts her up at the large apartment that she is minding, an arrangement set up by her mother. The original occupants were a mother and a daughter, both in hospital in comas following an accident. When Isa loses her job, Marie throws it in too and they muck about considering new revenue streams.

Initially, this is thought to involve hooking up with a good-looking bloke with a car, and they are only half in jest. Isa is friendly to anyone, Marie distrustful, particularly of men. Isa in her forwardness is anticipated to be the susceptible one, Marie in perpetually jitterbugging modes of defence and attack, scares them away and retains an impenetrability and hardness. Isa can spend time with people without getting sexually intimate, though the man she has come to Lille for might have been the one she did sleep with, though once only and too briefly to understand love in its entirety. The impression is deep. She needs to track him down to take the relationship to its conclusion and learn from it, as currently the inconclusiveness only serves to muddle her feelings. In the meantime she has found something to supplement it, something more important, a friend, and they are rare enough and worth hanging onto.

Once there are two of you, you can increase the circle and through her new friendship she meets others. They befriend a couple of bikers, Charley and Fredo, who roadie for a band and act as bouncers at a local nightclub. It is Marie who can't associate with others, men in particular, without entering into a degree of intimacy. Charley (Patrick Mercado) is an unlikely lover for her, older, fat, but pleasant and with enough of life under his girth that he knows that the pretty young blonde in his bed can't last. Isa is sleeping in the comatose child's room and finds the girl's diary.

Through it she feels she knows the girl and owes it to her to visit her in hospital, discovering that the mother died a week after the accident. The girl has had no visitors, so Isa poses as a friend and largely knows not what to do for her or how to speak to the sleeper. Isa takes the diary to hospital and reads it to her and is later chastised by Marie for what she considers a foolish act. How is the girl going to respond to a strange voice recalling her life to her in her own words, she's going to think it is god. Isa makes new entries into the diary, her own basic telling contrasting the younger girl's evocative and jaunty prose.

Charley's boss (Grégoire Colin) chats up Marie, unaware that his immediate fascination with the blonde is more than simple attraction. It is also subconscious recognition, the nightclub owner failing to identify her as one of the girls who only a few days before had broken his car's rear-light following a confrontation. Marie's attraction to him is more serious and she falls for him. Isa and her views on the relationship, her warnings about the lothario, lead Marie to dismiss her little friend. They fall out, and in so doing it removes the support that Marie is going to need for the dangerous emotional upheaval to come when the bastard casts her aside.

Arrow have delivered yet another subtly appealing drama if in a simple package. The subtitles could have been set a little lower on the screen, falling currently across chests, but it's to be coped with. Image quality is fair; colour is diffused to complement the season. Featuring characters you can care about, a happy outcome for one character is too much for the writer and tragedy is visited on the other. The life saved compensates for the death to come, and acts as a leveller in the film, confusing the emotions. Don't overlook these girls.

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