Despite comprising a larger proportion of the global population, women are under-represented in the realm of film. The plight of female filmmakers illustrates the gender gap aptly, with the overwhelming majority of helmers of the male persuasion. Indeed, infamously only one woman has won the best director Academy Award (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker), and only three others have even been nominated (Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties, Jane Campion for The Piano and Sofia Coppola for Lost In Translation). Yet in France, if not elsewhere, the tide seems to be turning, with French cinema reportedly in the midst of a female new wave. Following in the footsteps of Alice Guy and Agnès Varda, Claire Denis and Catherine Breillat, and Jacqueline Audry and Julie Delpy are a group of up-and-comers worthy of attention, including Father Of My Children’s Mia Hansen-Løve, Cannes 2011 jury prize winner Maïwenn Le Besco and first-timer Alix Delaporte. The latter’s debut effort Angèle And Tony (Angèle et Tony) has wowed audiences worldwide, earning an international release after a strong showing on the festival circuit.
Looking every bit as attractive as her name implies, Angèle’s (Clotilde Hesme, Mysteries Of Lisbon) pleasing exterior masks a troubled mind. Struggling to get by in a sea of guilt stemming from a recently completed prison stretch, the lost soul attempts to trade emptiness for intimacy, seeking the physical over the emotional. After answering a personal ad, she meanders into the life of Tony (Grégory Gadebois, Gainsbourg), a middle-aged fisherman torn between the political fall-out of his work and the toll of a family loss. Despite a rocky start, they forge a fledgling connection when Angèle turns to Tony for help in the form of work and a place to stay. With both anchored by their own problems – including Angèle’s quest to reconnect with her young son (debutant Antoine Couleau), and Tony’s troubles with his grief-stricken mother (Evelyne Didi, soon to be seen in Le Havre) and headstrong brother (Jérôme Huguet, Wild Innocence) – it takes time for their bond to bloom. And yet, their similarities become more apparent, as the gulf between their differences closes.
The unlikely romance that sits at the centre of Angèle And Tony is the first of many obstacles that audiences must overcome in getting close to the heart of the story. Neither character is particularly easy to warm to, and despite an elongated first act, only fragments of their personality shine through in these crucial moments. It is a foregone conclusion that Angèle’s tough exterior will eventually give way to some kind of enlightenment, and the equally gruff Tony doesn’t seem emotionally equipped to handle someone with Angèle’s history. Hesme’s performance comes complete with a switch that has only two settings: moody and smiley, caught somewhere between The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest‘s Lisbeth and a Hollywood melodrama. Yet there is a character worth liking in there, and the perfunctory and almost disinterested approach to telling her tale in the briefest of running times barely allows us to get close to it. Tony rightfully keeps Angèle at arm’s length, but a romance develops nonetheless, perhaps due to his innate understanding of what they both want from this relationship. Tony’s agenda is simply less overt.
Set against a fishing town in Normandy, the chilled greys and frozen fish buffet the loneliness that both characters palpably exude. It is here that Delaporte’s ostensibly slow script has the most impact. Coupled with the frosty photography of Claire Mathon (Going South), the nuggets of information that manage to penetrate this rugged exterior are all the more powerful given the minimalistic shop-front. While Angèle And Tony is too brief and often superficial in its treatment to be a character study, the observational nature of the script brings it close to being one, but the more predictable elements of the story stop it just short of being a great one. Indeed, it is something else entirely, and it may be a backhanded compliment to say that few films have pondered a romance in quite this way. So it comes as a complete surprise when the contrived conclusion comes out of left field in light of the melancholy that has hung over the film like a black dog, as if to say “whatever!” before carrying on with their French lives.
Angele And Tony was released on May 19, 2011 in Australia by Palace Films.