84 minutes

On paper, Angèle et Tony seems like yet another of the resolutely downbeat, socially-conscious dramas of a certain Francophile school (Robert Guédiguian, for one, comes to mind). Or, even worse, like a generically heart-tugging drama ripped from the newspaper headlines for the greater glory of American arthouse patrons or upscale true-life weepies. All credit, then, to first-time writer/director Alix Delaporte and her cast, ably led by a mesmerising Clotilde Hesme cast against type, for avoiding all traps and pitfalls of either approach. Instead, the tale of the stop-start courtship between an elusive, brusque woman with a secret and a big-hearted but equally brusque fisherman in a Normandy fishing village is perfectly attuned to the halting rhythms of its female lead.

     Angèle is someone who is still learning to stand up on her own two feet after a two-year stint in prison (for reasons ms Delaporte never makes clear, but instead merely suggests). There's no “once upon a time” nor “happily ever after” here, just one long “now” where the writer/director's discreetly unobtrusive camera seems to catch raw moments of truth from a cast that disappears under the skin of their characters. The key to ms. Delaporte's film lies in ms. Hesme's evolution from tightly wound coil of seething animal tensions into a nervously but growingly confident woman finally reclaiming her right to happiness.

     Whether she gets it or not is beside the point; it's not the destination that matters but the journey, and that journey is sensitively and smartly presented, even if Angèle et Tony is very visibly a debut film. I, for one, would have liked to see more of Grégory Gadebois' laconic, conflicted Tony and his family - it's clear it's in Angèle that ms. Delaporte's interest lies - and there's a certain redundancy to some of her narrative. But those are quickly overlooked by the strength and determination of what remains a rather impressive debut, whose commitment and confidence make it transcend the sum of its parts.

Starring Clotilde Hesme, Grégory Gadebois; Evelyne Didi, Jérôme Huguet, Antoine Couleau, Patrick Ligardes, Patrick Descamps, Lola Dueñas.
     Directed and written by Alix Delaporte; produced by Hélène Cases; music by Mathieu Maestracci; director of photography (colour, processing by Eclair, Panavision widescreen), Claire Mathon; production designer, Hélène Ustaze; costume designers, Bibiane Blondy, Julie Couturier; film editor, Louise Decelle. 
     A Lionceau Films presentation/production, with the participation of Canal Plus, Cinécinéma, French National Centre for Cinema and the Animated Image, Sofica Cofinova 6. (French distributor, Pyramide Distribution. World sales, Pyramide International.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Medeia Monumental 2 (Lisbon), July 28th 2011. 


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