Ella Kemp


Angel – first look review

The lives of a prostitute and a cyclist become intertwined over the course of a long, sensual night.

The last 24 hours in the life of world famous cyclist Thierry Brasfort (Vincent Rottiers) are soaked in neon lights. Yellow in the streets, blue in the club, a hazy, thick red in a hotel room. The lights drown his world and light up her skin: Fae (Fatou N’Diaye), the last person he loves. She’s Senegalese and she earns money with her body. But she’s a gazelle, not a whore.

The story of Angel feels like an impossible work of fantasy, a star-crossed tragedy opposing love and sex, body and mind, life and death. But it’s based on another story, the novel ‘Monologue of Someone Who Got Used to Talking to Herself’ by Belgian author Dimitri Verhulst, and the start of Koen Mortier’s film warns us that while some things to come are based in reality, others aren’t.

Thierry seems to flit between fact and fiction in his own consciousness, as he frequently dreams about the way he’s going to die. Will he hang himself, legs dancing in the air by a swimming pool? How about a bullet to the head, with just a couple of blood stains dying his white boxers? His body and ego are worked up into oblivion by his career and his fans, so he takes a holiday to Senegal to compose himself. But that’s where he has to fall apart.

His relationship with Fae is sensual and effervescent. It’s an easy and straightforward meeting, in which Mortier deftly questions the logistics of what their “agreement” might entail, while visually focusing on how the visceral emotions matter far more than the specifics of their job titles. They establish that bodies matter more than spirits, and that pocket money has nothing to do with prostitution, it’s about making ends meet – something that we all have to do. If Thierry has to satisfy fans and appease journalists to do what he’s good at, he’s selling himself far more than Fae who saves people with pleasure.

The film turns sinister as the sensuality grows. When the two lonely souls come together, there’s a sense of urgency in their love that translates visually and sonically: heavy, crying strings narrate the yearning looks that are gorged in loneliness. Borrowing from the corporal passion of Steve McQueen’s Shame or Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, these strangers feel familiar in how tangible the pores of their skin are, and the way the whites of their eyes shine.

Although the premise could get lost in translation, Angel’s core is universal: over the course of one night, two people meet and give each other everything. Their eyes and their bodies, confessions of fears and promises about trust in what love could be. Where a lesser film could unravel in favour of a portrait of extremes (probably tragedy, potentially ridicule), Angel maintains an authenticity which transcends place and status, because these bodies know how to love without needing to fuck.

Published 14 Sep 2018

Tags: Fatou N’Diaye Koen Mortier Toronto Film Festival Vincent Rottiers

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