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European Union Film Festival: Angel and Left Bank

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 20, 2009 4:00PM

Angel, directed by Fran├žois Ozon
The European Union Film Festival continues at the Siskel through April 2. Here are reports on two more titles.

Angel (screens 3/22 and 3/23)
In the same way that Far From Heaven was both an homage and an extension of the 50's Technicolor domestic dramas of Douglas Sirk, Angel takes the "prestige" Hollywood costume drama and enriches the genre while also critiquing it. Angel Deverell is awfully ambitious for a woman of the early 20th Century. Despite growing up a naive young woman in the sticks, through sheer force of will she propels herself into a career as a best-selling celebrity author, effortlessly reeling off romantic novels.

Her mastery at creating fully-formed fantasy worlds extends to her own life. She remains tenaciously ignorant of how the real world works (for example, in one of her stories she refuses to acknowledge that opening a bottle of campaign does not require a corkscrew). She falls in love and marries a handsome young painter; but when he comes back shellshocked from the battlefields of World World I her fantasy world begins to crumble. Director Fran├žois Ozon, in his first English-language film, bests The Age of Innocence, coupling sumptuous color and extravagant production design with a pointed moral ambiguity. It's a brilliant poker face: is Ozon serious or is it all a satire? And could the blatant use of fake-looking rear projection be a clue? Whatever his motives, it's an an engrossing movie. Romola Garai is superb in the title role, showing just the right touch of childish stubborness; and Charlotte Rampling excels in her handful of scenes as the only woman who sees Angel for what she really is.

Left Bank (screens 3/21 and 3/24)
If you still think a subtitled movie automatically connotes nuance and intelligence, get a load of Left Bank, a would-be Rosemary's Baby that squanders its smarts about halfway through. Marie is an athlete sidelined by injury who takes up with Bobby, a hottie who introduces himself by entering the women's locker room wearing only a towel. Before you know it they're hot and heavy, and she moves into his highrise apartment to recuperate. Bad idea. Because you see the building stands on an accursed site, previously used for executions; furthermore, there's a bottomless black tar pit in the basement which plays a sinister role in the annual pagan feast of Samhein. Or something. Some arresting images, and a memorably-passionate sex scene, can't overcome a general feeling of deja vu. And it has the kind of ending that makes you shout "Oh, come on!" at the screen. It's worth a look if you're in an undemanding, goofy mood. Otherwise, just rent some Polanski.