Gloomy guy meets angel: Life's wonderful, after all

Posted: June 22, 2007

Like some Eurotrash It's a Wonderful Life, Luc Besson's Angel-A begins with a down-on-his-luck guy standing on a bridge over a river, contemplating suicide. Then along comes a guardian angel, and off the duo goes on a life-affirming journey of self-discovery.

Only the bridge in question isn't in Bedford Falls, it's in Paris. And the guardian angel isn't a doddering old gent, it's a chain-smoking Danish supermodel.

That's Besson - the French filmmaker behind La Femme Nikita and Milla Jovovich's Joan of Arc - for ya.

A beautifully shot (in high-contrast black-and-white) fable about a sad-eyed schmo (Amelie's Jamel Debbouze) in debt up to his ears - and threatened with death unless he pays up posthaste - Angel-A tracks this lovable loser, Andre, as he ricochets around the arrondissements in the company of the legs-up-to-here title character. That would be the stunning, 6-foot-tall Rie Rasmussen, who, with her cropped locks and gamine gait, is the kind of angel usually associated with Victoria's Secret ads.

Rasmussen, who took a crash course in French when she landed the role, has screen presence to burn. Besson shoots her sleek, chic and adoringly, as she and Debbouze run from loan sharks and thugs, and stop in boites and bistros to drink wine, smoke cigarettes and look cool.

What's maddening about Angel-A is that Besson is so brilliant with his visuals - and so in love with his two leads and the city they're parading around - that you desperately want the story, and the characters, to make some kind of emotional sense. This, however, does not happen.


Angel-A **1/2 (out of four stars)

Written and directed by Luc Besson, photography by Thierry Arbogast, distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. In French with subtitles. With Jamel Debbouze and Rie Rasmussen.

Running time: 1 hour, 28 mins.

Parent's guide: R (violence, sex, profanity, adult themes)

Playing at: Ritz Five and Showcase at Ritz Center/NJ


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com.

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