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Side Street Films: Face Of An Angel

Tuesday, April 7, 2015 by

Eden Cinemas’ innovative Side Street Films programme is aimed at showing that there is “more to cinema than Hollywood” – and we couldn’t agree more. Our resident cineaste Shaun Antnin takes a look at the fortnightly offerings from Eden’s artistically oriented programme and decides what they are worth.

German director Thomas (Daniel Brühl) arrives in Sienna to meet journalist Simone Ford (Kate Beckinsale) and start laying the groundwork for an upcoming film. A British production company has optioned Ford’s book on an ongoing murder case and they want Thomas to dramatize it. Thomas soon decides the best way to tell the story is in the form of a fictionalised account, rather than focusing the true crime, which he believes is far too muddled to be unravelled satisfactorily over the course of a film.

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While in the city Thomas interacts with a handful of journos and residents – chief among them being the sinister, mysterious and possibly malevolent Francesco (Corrarado Invernizzi) – and Melanie, a waitress played by British model Carla Delevingne. She is presented as the only genuinely likeable character among the main players, however, it could be suggested that the characters are filtered through Thomas’s perception, as there are no scenes in which he does not feature, nor is any prominent male character presented in a positive light.

Tellingly, Winterbottom has adopted the same approach to his film as Thomas has to preparing his fictional one. For, while all the featured characters are fictional, the case which Thomas is expected to dramatize, and the people involved in it, are essentially carbon copies of the events and people in the true life tale of Amanda Knox and Meredith Kercher, with the action relocated to Sienna (rather than Perugia). Even Beckinsale’s Ford is a fictionalised version of Barbie Latza Nadeau, the writer of Angel Face – the book upon which this work is based – who was working around the Perugia police at the time of the killing.

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Although Thomas sets out to discover Elizabeth’s (Sai Bennett/Kercher’s) story, in fact, it seems that he’s on his own voyage of discovery; rediscovering his own sense of direction and rebuilding his psyche after the breakdown of his own relationship with his former partner a few years prior. This ‘journey’, his desire to unravel the increasingly complex case, and his quest for artistic inspiration and focus, inspire him to shovel copious amounts of coke up his nose and bed a number of the film’s female characters in an attempt to get his mojo back. Instead it has the reverse effect, causing him to hallucinate and become increasingly paranoid and unfocussed.

Unfortunately, as with Thomas’s approach to drug taking and filmmaking, the work attempts to bite off more than it can chew by trying to do too much at the same time, and this results in a film which is slightly bloated and garbled. Of course, some of this is intentional as it is intended to reflect Thomas’s depressed, confused and increasingly addled state of mind, but that does not entirely justify Winterbottom’s approach.

In the ‘pros’ column, Sienna looks postcard beautiful, as does Delevingne, who puts in a commendable performance, depicting Melanie as a joyful, outgoing and lively young lady. Other than Invernizzi – who successfully manages to balance the mysterious and knowing with the deviant and untrustworthy – hers is the strongest performance in the film, and she gets more screen time here, in her debut feature, than any other character bar Brühls Thomas who is perpetually on screen. This is the film’s primary flaw.

Although Brühl’s performance is solid enough, his character is neither rounded out, nor interesting or charismatic enough, to support what is ultimately a psychological study of a rather dull personality. Although the film’s focus briefly returns to Elizabeth, practically everything which takes place in the narrative functions to show the development of this character and in this regard the film fails in its objective, as to be entertained or engaged by this film one must emote with Thomas.

The film is brave in regard to what it attempts to achieve, but it lacks both direction and focus, and needs editing. If one adds Thomas’s daughter into the equation there are four girls in this narrative who could be considered to have ‘the face of an angel’. But only she, far away in the USA, could be considered truly ‘angelic’ – for although the late Elizabeth is the victim of a murder, she is not portrayed as a saint. And maybe this angel, from whom Thomas is separated by thousands of miles and by his estrangement from his ex-wife – but who he nonetheless contacts daily on Skype – is the true angel of the story. It’s just a shame that this angle was not developed further rather than other, superfluous sequences, which should have been left on the cutting room floor.

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