The Dreamlife of Angels

             The amazing thing about THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS is that it was
     directed by a man, Erick Zonca. Making an assured and important feature        
     directorial debut, Zonca (along with co-writers Roger Bohbot and Virginie
     Wagon) have captured the nuances and emotionality of female friendship
     with such honesty and intimacy that one cannot help but be moved. The
     film has justly won acclaim in France (notably at Cannes and the Césars,
     the French equivalent of the Oscars) but was somehow overlooked by the
     members of the Motion Picture Academy when it selected the five candidates
     for Best Foreign Language Film of 1998.

             In 1993, Zonca won an award for one of his short films and actress
     Elodie Bouchez presented the prize. In his acceptance speech, the director
     declared that he had written a script for a feature and that he had created
     the leading role with Bouchez in mind. Initially, she resisted feeling that the
     character of Isa was too passive. Zonca persevered and with her input,
     tailored the role for the actress. Bouchez was already a veteran and had
     made an impression in André Téchiné's
       (WILD REEDS)
. If nothing else, THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS confirms her
     as a powerful actress. She is matched in the film by her polar opposite,
     actress Natacha Regnier. Together these two talented women create
     believable and heart-breaking figures.

             The film opens with the scrappy brunette Isa trying to cadge a living on
     the streets selling handmade postcards. She carries a backpack that threatens
     to topple her but she sallies forth, oblivious and all-embracing. A chance
     meeting leads to a job offer sewing clothing. Isa proves inept but she also
     manages to befriend the aloof blonde Marie (Regnier), inveigling an invitation
     to stay with her. Marie, it happens, is house-sitting for a woman and her
     daughter who were injured in an automobile accident. The two women form a
     bond of friendship that really isn't based on anything more than some shared
     likes and dislikes. Both hate the factory work (when Isa is fired, Marie quits).
     Both love to hang out at the malls and go to clubs (they each find unlikely
     suitors in a pair of nightclub bouncers).  Isa is more open, taking life in stride
     while Marie is clearly bruised by her experiences. They work odd jobs and live
     together but gradually begin to move apart as each attempts to find fulfillment.

             Isa finds the diary of the injured girl and begins to make entries.
     Eventually, she goes to the hospital and visits the girl, reading the diary and
     passing herself off as a friend. Marie cannot comprehend this. On the other
     hand, she has begun an ill-advised affair with a wealthy, caddish nightclub
     owner, Chris, (Grégoire Colin). Their relationship is one based on inflicting
     pain and pleasure — while not overtly sadomasochistic, they play at the roles
     of slave and master. Marie clearly lacks self-esteem and enjoys degrading
     herself as she meets Chris in hotel rooms. She has convinced herself he is
     her ticket to a better life, overlooking his obvious disdain for her. When Isa
     learns of their affair and makes her objections known, the rift between the
     women grows until there are tragic consequences.

             THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS is exquisitely acted. Regnier possesses the
     same sang-froid and haughtiness of Catherine Deneuve but is more earthy.
     Bouchez, with her close- cropped hair, at first calls to mind Leslie Caron in
LILI. Like Caron, she can at first appear slightly unattractive depending on the
     camera angles. But over the course of the film, she blossoms: Marie provides
     the sunlight to nurture Isa's growth. As their bouncer-boyfriends, Jo Prestia
     and Patrick Mercado are terrific, skewering stereotypes of bikers and beefy
     guys. Each has a heart and is not afraid to show it. That the girls trounce on
     them blithely only adds the reality. Grégoire Colin as Chris is also memorable.
     Erick Zonca has created a beautiful realized tale of destiny and sorority. He
     has found truly angelic actresses who undoubtedly will soar in the future.
     Whether they reach the heights they do here again, only time will tell.

Rating:                A -
MPAA Rating:       None
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.