February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

Nice Slice of Life

Angel (Romola Garai), accompanied by her publisher (Sam Neill) gazes longingly at Paradise House.

It takes moxie to make an old-fashioned moralistic film about the consequences of hubris, but Francois Ozon has managed to pull it off with style and even make it enjoyable and (mostly) believable.

This is the kind of film our mothers used to say they didn’t make any more: a good rollicking story with pretty dresses and great scenery. Angel, which was filmed in English, is based on the novel of the same name by Elizabeth Taylor, with a screenplay by Ozon. It tells the story of the title character (Romola Garai), a young shopkeeper’s daughter in turn-of-the-century England who has delusions of grandeur and a vivid imagination. She just can’t stop writing, and soon finds a publisher and a wide readership for her overwrought romantic novels. Against all the odds, she becomes rich and famous.

As beautiful, spoiled and brash as Scarlett O’Hara (and this tale has many parallels with Gone with the Wind), the beautiful young Angel has total confidence in her abilities and gets what she wants without worrying much about how it affects others.
With the earnings from her novels she buys Paradise House (where else could an Angel live?), the mansion she had dreamed of living in as a child, and furnishes it with cheerfully extravagant vulgarity. Nora (Lucy Russell), her devoted number-one fan, moves in to become her secretary and nursemaid.

Angel also finds herself a man, Nora’s brother, the handsome, contrarian artist Esmé (Michael Fassbender), who refuses to paint pretty pictures in bright colors, much to Angel’s dismay. But he is just the romantic figure she needs to complete the fairytale life she has built for herself. She is soon married to him, in spite of Nora’s warnings about her brother’s deficient moral character.

The handsome twosome, deliriously in love, embark on a Grand Tour honeymoon and then return to set up house together in Paradise House.

All is not as perfect as it seems in Paradise, however, and World War I soon arrives, bringing with it the collapse of Angel’s romantic world, just as the Civil War destroyed Scarlett’s privileged life.

Ozon can’t help occasionally stepping back and mocking the style of this epic, which he mostly presents straightforwardly and without irony. It’s a bit jarring when he mocks his film’s romanticism by slipping in a touch of kitsch here and there: when the couple kisses for the first time, for example, a rainbow appears over their heads, and the swelling music is sometimes overdone, making it difficult for the viewer to suspend disbelief. The director seems to want us to take his film seriously while letting us know that he doesn’t take it seriously himself, but he can’t have it both ways.

All in all, however, he makes it work and even makes it. The actors and production values are faultless, and although the film runs for two hours and 14 minutes, it manages to keep our interest right to the end.

Heidi Ellison

© 2007 Paris Update

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