What is a chick flick? Well, a young boy would define it something like this: nothing ever happens; there’s a lot of talking and a lot of dancing; at the end some people get married.
I’m going to define a new genre for this movie: French existentialist chick flick. There’s no wedding; not even any dancing to speak of; but there is a lot of talking. It rends the heart, but in a more philosophical, reflective way.
Since it is a chick flick, there is no real plot, and that makes it hard to describe succinctly. The story follows a few weeks in the life of two young women in Lille, France. Both are lower class, with bad haircuts. Indeed, none of the characters are shown with artificial flattery. That’s why Hollywood would never have made a movie like this one.
Blonde Marie (Natacha Régnier) is house-sitting the apartment of Sandrine (pretty extra Louise Motte), who lies in a coma at the hospital. Brunette Isa (Élodie Bouchez) arrives in town with a backpack, and inveigles herself into sharing the apartment.
As they are getting to know each other, Isa ruefully, yet without bitterness, tells the story of a boy from her last town with whom she wished something would develop; Marie scoffs that Isa was just a passing girl that was very convenient for him. But it is as if predicting her own destiny, for she later falls for a man for whom she is just that.
Isa sees disaster looming if Marie falls for Chriss (Grégoire Colin) and tries to prevent her from taking the plunge. This only causes Marie to well up in anger and reject Isa — she is like a ball and chain, Marie shouts. At one level, Marie is right – Isa was not exactly invited in. But a little bit of reflection would have reminded Marie that both Charly and Chriss were only in her life at all because of Isa!
Isa’s rebuke is honest and faithful, and her presence becomes like an angel bringing the Day of Judgment to Marie. Earlier, when rich Chriss started to be a factor, Isa had encouraged Marie not just to drop grungy boyfriend Charly (Patrick Mercado); but a discussion later with Charly exposes his lack of genuineness also: both parties had sinned in that relationship by objectifying the other for their own purposes. Isa is an angel of light and life for the comatose Sandrine, whom she doesn’t even know. But both the judgment and life-giving roles are inadvertent. Isa is not on a mission from God: her love and honesty simply bring these things to pass. Yet, combined with her sudden appearance, like a mysterious stranger, she functions for us viewers as a kind of allegory for God — creating relations, probing the heart, bringing about a decisive change for good or ill.
There is rich symbolism throughout that reinforces the characterizations. One job that Isa takes involves advertising on roller skates, and we see her help a new friend by “attaching” (s’accrocher) to pull her along; later, Marie excoriates Isa for “attaching” (s’accrocher) and not letting go in their relationship. In an earlier job at a sewing factory, Isa can’t get it – she bungles the “connections” – while Marie is skillful: opposite of their general ability in life. Watch for the use of mirrors that starts about halfway through that seem to represent Marie adopting as her own self-image the objectification that she is in Chriss’ eyes.
Almost all the males in the story – boyfriends, bosses, even the fathers that we only get to know by indirect reference — are either evil or useless. The men have established and define the world which the girls react and adapt to. The movie is a study of two different ways of feminine reaction. But it is unfortunate that there is no positive male figure.
I am not sure I understand the final scene. Tentatively I call it “woman as maker of connections, though invisible to the big shots of the world.” Or is it as if to say, “here we go again” ? Or, is there a subliminal tribal theme, in the transition from the sweat shop run by a foreigner to the clean shop run by a polite Frenchman? I’m open to suggestions. In any case, it is strangely affecting at a primal level thanks in part to the haunting Yann Tiersen piece, Rue des cascades.
The photography by Agnès Godard would alone make the film worthwhile. The architectural settings, especially of the apartment, are beautifully colored and textured. The personal close-ups are almost worthy of Bergman.
Unfortunately, there are several needlessly explicit scenes. Indeed, the American rating was initially X, but downgraded to R. The scenes are not particularly erotic — more akin to rape — and this is why I can recommend a viewing for those that are able to bracket this aspect as an unfortunate pandering for ticket sales.
The original title is La vie rêvée des anges. The English subtitles include taking the Lord’s name, but this is not in the actual script, as you can verify by checking the French subtitles that are also available. As with M and The Tunnel, we discover that the adaptors for the American presentation, whoever they are, are incapable of not blaspheming, even when it is not present originally. These evil men need to be hunted down and held accountable.