Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Wildly popular director Luc Besson, whose big-screen hits include The Fifth Element and La Femme Nikita, is these days most often thought of as a big-budget, all-action artist.

But this wildly prolific producer also lends his name and expertise to movies that aren't filled with explosions, movie-stars and mighty-morphin' Peugeot 205 Taxi cabs.

One such example is Angel-A.

This 2005 movie only recently made it to America - but it was worth the wait.

Angel-A is the story of a down-on-his-luck gambler and con-artist played by French comedy legend Jamel Debbouze (in 2002, the highest paid actor in France.)

After running up thousands of Euros worth of debt with seedy Paris crooks, Jamal's character, André, decides to toss himself into the Seine before the loan sharks he's defaulted on track him down and do it for him.

But before he can jump, he spots a leggy blond in an inexplicably short dress throw herself into the river first - so diving off the Pont Alexandre III, Jamal rescues the drowning beauty (which is quite a feat, since André is a tiny little man with only one arm.)

Once they emerge, dripping, onto the banks of the Seine, the blond introduces herself as Angela - and proceeds to tag along with André as he abandons suicide and tries to settle his debts. As miraculous things start to occur, André begins to wonder if Angela is more than just a statuesque blond. Could she really be his guardian angel?


Angel-A is, unsurprisingly, a uniquely French movie.

There are several things about this moody black-and-white film that just wouldn't translate to an America version - for example, how stunning Angela (played by ridiculously slim, statuesque Danish model Rie Rasmussen) could find short, scruffy André so captivating.

But that's what gives the movie it's charm - that and the wonderfully absurd relationship between the two leads (for example, at 5'5", Jamal is dwarfed by stiletto-heeled Rie Rasmussen.)

It's also funny, even after the jokes get translated into Americanized subtitles. I cracked up when Andé, attempting to seek protection from the loan sharks, demands a Gendarme lock him up. When the policeman refuses, he cries: "I'm an Arab with no identification! Are you kidding me?"

Another amusing scene features Angela soliciting money in a manner very different to the sordid means André is imagining.


Although a movie like this can only end happily, Luc Besson's script is anything but predictable. It's a very satisfying merry-go-round ride and all filmed against the backdrop of a postcard-perfect (and strangely deserted) Paris.

If you're looking for a 'French-fix' than Angel-A delivers everything you could ask for. The City of Lights. That typical Besson charm and wit. The wonderful Jamal in all his stuttering, awkward glory and a cute, romantic storyline that'll leave you uplifted when the credits start rolling.

Angel-A is available from Blockbuster.

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