Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Dreamlife of Angels

Originally Written and Posted at on 5/16/08 w/ Additional Edits.

Directed by Erick Zonca, La Vie Revee des Anges (The Dreamlife of Angels) tells the story of two young, working class women in a small French town dealing with their harsh realities and a young comatose girl. Along the way, their friendship starts to diverge with different points of views as well as relationships in their lives. Written by Zonca and Roger Bohbot, the film explores the fragile friendship between two young women in a world that has few prospects and a slimmer future. Starring Elodie Bouchez, Natacha Regnier, Gregoire Colin, Patrick Mercado, and Jo Prestia. La Vie Revee des Agnes is a harrowing yet touching story of friendship from Erick Zonka.

In the north French town of Lille, a young woman named Isa (Elodie Bouchez) is trying to find work and shelter while wearing a large backpack. After meeting a Yugoslav boss (Zivko Niklevski), she finds a job sewing on a machine where she meets another young woman named Marie (Natacha Regnier) who is living in a flat that belongs to a woman and her daughter who are both in a coma after an accident. Isa asks if she can crash as the two become friends after they get into trouble with their boss at the sewing factory. The two women walk around town as they meet a couple of big bouncers name Charlie (Patrick Mercado) and Fredo (Jo Prestia). They befriend the big men as Marie finds herself enjoying the company of the big, burly Charlie as they continue to seek work around town.

While trying to get jobs including one at a club where they auditioned to be their favorite stars, they later go to a mall where they encounter a young man whose car they threw a rock at. He's later revealed to be the owner of the club Charlie and Fredo work at as Marie finds herself attracted to the man named Chris (Gregoire Colin). Isa meanwhile, learns about the owners of the flat as she reads the diary of the girl Sandrine (Louise Motte). She decides to see her at the hospital where she learned about her mother as Sandrine remains comatose. Feeling that the girl at least should know what's going on in her home, she writes a diary to tell her that she's in a coma as she reads the diaries to communicate with her. When Isa learns she got a job at the club passing out fliers in a silly costume and on roller skates, Marie refuses to do it as she wanders around into the bar where Chris' father owns as she begins an affair.

While Marie tries to secretly hide the affair from Charlie, Isa knows what's going on and she doesn't like it nor Chris whom she sees as a jerk who likes to be with a lot of women. The affair gets more intense and more self-destructive as one night when the two girls working at the club Charlie and Fredo work at, Marie leaves early as she sees Chris as the affair gets more troubling. Charlie knows what's going on as he talks to Isa where they both share their feelings about the affair. With Isa now coming to see Sandrine more, she learns that her uncle (Christian Cailleret) is planning to sell the flat. With the two women now forced to find new places to live, Isa confronts Marie about her affair after learning what Chris had told her. When Isa learns that Sandrine is sick, she decides to be closer to her while confronting about Marie's troubling state of mind as the two women deal with the loneliness that surrounds them.

Films about friendship often feature men that are sometimes buddy movies and such. Yet, there's not many movies about female friendship which in some ways are more interesting to tell. The script by Erick Zonca and Roger Bohbot with contributions by Virginie Wagon and Pierre Chosson, the film is essentially a study of isolation and how two different young women deal with loneliness. The story of two poor, penniless women dealing with trying to find jobs and companionship while leaning towards each only to be diverged by their different personalities. Isa, is a young woman who pretty lives by on whatever happens, happens while trying to maintain a sense of optimism through harsh realities. Marie is a young woman desperate for companionship while not wanting to fall in the same trap as her mother (Frederique Hazard) is doing with her father.

The script filled with wonderful development in character and in plot is told wonderfully through Zonca's observant yet wondrous direction is shot with great intimacy and style as he lets the camera follow the lives of these two young women. With some hand-held camera to show their lives, Zonca shows the girls in their similar struggles and the differences between them as they each live separate lives. The way Zonca captures the good times and later, the bad times that lead to an emotional climax for both women where the ending reveals a wide sense of where the two young women are going. The result is a film that is engrossing from start to finish to deal what young people had to go through to achieve happiness through harsh environments both physical and emotional.

Cinematographer Agnes Godard does superb work with the photography with no flashy lighting but a sense of realism in a verite style where the morning look in the interior settings are purely white and real. With a bit of grain to add to the look of realism, Godard's work is truly superb in the way she captures the dark look of the interiors to the vast location in Lille, France. Editor Yannick Kergoat does excellent work with the film's leisurely pacing while adding rhythmic jump cuts to give the film a sense of style. Production designer Jimmy Vansteenkiste does a great job with the look of the clubs and the flat that Isa and Marie live in to show a contrast of the environments they live and work at. Costume designer Francoise Clavel does a great job in the look of the costumes where the girls have a drab, loose look, Charlie and Fredo have a biker look, and Chris, a posh look.

Sound editor Muriel Moreau and engineer Jean-Luc Audy do an excellent job with the film's sound to capture the feel of the atmosphere and music clubs that the women work at that is true to the style of cinema verite. The film has no existing score except for a song right in the end by Yann Tiersen that is played around the film's final credits.

The casting by Antoine Carrard is superb as smaller performances by Frederique Hazard, Christian Cailleret, and Zivko Niklevski are memorable as is the performance of Louise Motte as the comatose Sandrine. Jo Prestia is good as the mean-looking Fredo who seems annoyed at the company of the two young women only to find a good time with them despite his mean personality. Patrick Mercado is excellent as Charlie, a big man with a big heart who treats the two girls, especially Marie kindness while helping them out with money and such. Gregoire Colin is good as the slimy, philandering Chris who likes to have rough sex with Marie and treat her horribly while humiliating her with other women only to show his true side to Isa.

The film's best performances truly goes to the duo of Elodie Bouchez and Natacha Regnier. Bouchez, who some might know her from her work on the TV show Alias is superb as the upbeat yet determined Isa, who is trying to find work and happiness while dealing with a dose of reality in Marie's self-destructive behavior and the comatose girl Sandrine. Bouchez also adds a sense of emotion through her minimalist performance in scenes that require huge drama but Bouchez's understated approach is just superb. Regnier delivers a brilliant performance as the troubled Marie who is desperate for companionship as she delves into an intense bout with loneliness and humiliation. Regnier's performance is certainly the most challenging as she brings a lot of angst and depth to the character. Yet, Bouchez and Regnier are extraordinary in their performances as the shine in the film which is why they both received the 1998 Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

La Vie Revee des Agnes is a truly superb, touching, and powerful film from Erick Zonca led by the amazing performances of Elodie Bouchez and Natacha Regnier. Fans of female-led films will no doubt consider this a great film about female friendship while it's also one of the best European films of the 1990s. While the film isn't easy to watch, the story itself is universal as well as what the film is saying about young people that is still relevant to this day. In the end, La Vie Revee des Agnes is a must-see film for anyone who wants a real compelling story about friendship and loneliness.

(C) thevoid99 2012

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