On occasion, it’s a real test of strength to endorse certain films. That’s not because they’re utter tripe, but because they manage to pull off tackling tough topics with such a blithe ease that it seems a bit wrong on a human level to recommend them. Sorry Angel is one such film but it has absolutely nothing to apologise for.
Tapping into his own experiences, writer-director Christophe Honoré offers not only a tactfully sharp, candid romantic tragedy, that boldly pushes established definitions of sexuality to one side, but also a truthful portrayal of what it’s like to crave human connection while shrouded by the realities of terminal illness. Sorry Angel may be set twenty-five years ago but everything about it feels bracingly current. That is, other than the death sentence that an HIV diagnosis represents.
It is early-nineties Paris. Self-assured, thirty-something writer Jacques Tondelli (Pierre Deladonchamps) leads a simple life with his son LouLou (Tristan Farge), keeping men at arm’s length and complications away from his doorstep. At first glance, it seems that he does so based on a cold indifference to love but his motivations soon become clear. Jacques accomplishes his objective with little effort until a chance encounter with twenty-two-year-old Breton student Arthur Prigent (Vincent Lacoste) challenges his resolve. The original title of the film – ‘Plaire, aimer et courir vite’ – translates as ‘To charm, love, and run fast.’ However, the inescapable allure of Arthur’s refreshingly happy-go-lucky outlook on life makes it impossible for Pierre to run even though his better judgement argues otherwise.
When asked about his thoughts of Jane Campion’s The Piano, Arthur tells Jacques ‘it’s a bit too storybook’ for him. Well, Sorry Angel is anything but storybook. It may follow a dying man’s ‘final romance’ as he refuses to let HIV define and rule him but the pragmatic, wry worldview of its characters gives this film a light, humorous nature that offsets any sense of melancholy. A scene in which the dynamics of gay cruising are essentially boiled down to animal scent-marking is but one illustration of this.
Deladonchamps and Lacoste are compelling in the delivery of their dissimilar yet equally direct and peppery characters, offering beautifully layered, nuanced performances that serve to showcase their extensive talents. And they’re offered the perfect playground in which to do that.
The slice of life that Honoré treats us to in Sorry Angel is so terribly French that you’ll stumble out of the picture house wearing a striped t-shirt, with a string of onions adorning your neck, a baguette wedged firmly under your arm, and a cigarette hanging from your bottom lip. Any self-respecting Francophile will also live for his subtle nods to French greats like Isabelle Huppert and François Truffaut.
We’ve got a true thought-provoker on our hands here, which successfully upturns preconceived ideas about sexuality. ‘Sex isn’t less noble than feelings…illicit sex is an opportunity for adventure,’ one of our protagonists assures us. What a welcome rationalization that is. Honoré doesn’t shove his thoughts about carnal pleasures down our throats, though, instead allowing events to slowly unfold through an uncommonly modest narrative. Side note: bare feet get so much screen time here that Honoré must be alluding to a foot fetish. If so, crafty touch.
This absorbing story about life and death will leave you keen to explore Honoré’s other work, but don’t be under any illusions that you’ll find anything as understated. This definitely feels like a milestone in this talented film-maker’s career. Bravo.