Serge Riaboukine

Angel-A (2005, Luc Besson)

I can’t believe I’m about make this statement… Angel-A would be better if it were American. Besson could still direct, still write the base story (someone else would have to come in and add… you know… subplots), still have his lead Rie Rasmussen (who’s Danish, not French, as IMDb informs… which makes sense–I’ve never seen a six-foot blond Frenchwoman), but his music composer and soundtrack producer would have to go… and so would his other lead, Jamel Debbouze. Angel-A has a really interesting problem–besides the utter lack of subplots (an Our Gang film has more)–for the first half, Debbouze is good and Rasmussen is bad. For the second half, Rasmussen is good and Debbouze is bad. The problem is a combination of script and actor. Rasmussen plays bare and emotion well and in the first half she’s enigmatic and emotionless. Debbouze is an engaging moderate scumball and the second half tries to turn him into a desperately romantic leading man. He doesn’t do change and Besson seems to realize it, because in the second half, he really brings up the music for effect. Sometimes the music works… most times it doesn’t (or it just goes on too long).

As a fantastic romance, Angel-A is something of a rehash of The Fifth Element, only without a story (or a real understanding of effective music–where’s Eric Serra when Besson really needs him?). I think I’d have been more irritated with its lack of momentum–the long dialogue sequences don’t work, especially since Besson assigns so much weight to them–if I hadn’t gone in knowing it was only going to be ninety minutes (something I should have told my fiancée). Besson pedals in place for the majority of the film, trashes a lot of good starts to scenes. It’s like he couldn’t fill the running time so he added minutes to conversations, never really pausing to see when the film wanted more space.

The bevy of complaints aside, the black and white photography is amazing. It looks like a cross between good French New Wave and L’Atalante. There’s an astoundingly beautiful sequence at the end–unimaginably wonderful–which makes the film worth seeing (and, possibly, even owning in some hi-def format… I’ve never seen anything like it). The black and white gives everything a surreal feel, at least the outdoor shots when people look like their filmed against the best rear-screen projection ever done, creating a striking visual style (too bad Besson loses it inside). His command of composition is better than it’s ever been, it’s just too bad he didn’t have a better script. Besson’s been writing crappy (if sometimes entertaining) action movies for seven years… and a lot of them–maybe the bad habits rubbed off. He also only had a fifteen million euro budget. And it’s a shame, because with some relatively simple tweaks, Angel-A would have been really good.



Written, produced and directed by Luc Besson; director of photography, Thierry Arbogast; edited by Frédéric Thoraval and Christine Lucas Navarro; music by Anja Garbarek; production designer, Jacques Bufnoir; released by EuropaCorp.

Starring Jamel Debbouze (André), Rie Rasmussen (Angela), Gilbert Melki (Franck), Serge Riaboukine (Pedro) and Akim Chir (le chef des malfrats).

Olga’s Chignon (2002, Jérôme Bonnell)

I think this film is the one of the best films Woody Allen never made.

I don’t talk about it much, or ever, since I watched all of Allen’s films long before The Stop Button, but there are some distinct Allen formats and he never seems to mix them. Olga’s Chignon mixes them a little–it’s never as depressing as Allen’s depressing films–and it’s never as playful as his most playful entries get.

Except for the end, which sort of stops, leaving a number of characters unresolved simply because the third act concentrated on two of the four main characters. The conclusion is well-handled enough, however, that I can forgive some of it. It’s just when you introduce your thesis at the last minute, it makes a lot of the previous story setting instead of important.

Bonnell’s young, twenty-eight, and Olga’s Chignon is an impressive debut for someone that age. As much as he concentrates on the writing, his directing is the most important part of the film. He holds scenes a few seconds longer than you except, giving the viewer time to reflect on what he or she has just seen. It’s a literary equivalent to ‘white space’ in short stories, expect ‘white space’ is sometimes used to display change in time, and fade outs are the traditional film device. Except fade outs don’t let you reflect. The only other film I can think of that does this is Horse Thief.

Olga’s Chignon is also my first French family drama and it’s set an incredible standard. Bonnell’s got a new film this year, but Olga never made it to the US (thankfully Nicheflix has it), so I’ll have to track that down somehow. Based on this film, of course, getting slaughtered with a UK exchange rate would likely be worth it.



Written and directed by Jérôme Bonnell; director of photography, Pascal Lagriffoul; edited by Benoît Bechet; produced by Arnaud De Battice, Joël Farges, Sylvain Goldberg and Elise Jalladeau; released by Studio Canal.

Starring Hubert Benhamdine (Julien), Nathalie Boutefeu (Alice), Florence Loiret (Emma), Serge Riaboukine (Gilles), Marc Citti (Pascal), Antoine Goldet (Basile), Valérie Stroh (Nicole), Clotilde Hesme (Marion) and Jean-Michel Portal (Grégoire).

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