In a small fishing harbour in Normandy, Angèle (Clotilde Hesme) enters in Tony’s (Grégory Gadebois) life. Angèle is rough and knows nothing about love – her attempts at seducing him are met with rebuttal. Not like this, not this fast. Tony cannot believe that she is here for him...
FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL: A feral but attractive 27-year-old woman sets her sights on a 40ish fisherman for mysterious reasons in Angèle and Tony, a well-written and splendidly acted contemporary portrait of lower income French people whose emotional resources far exceed their financial ones. In her feature writing and directing debut, Alix Delaporte has fashioned a modest, bittersweet, unconventional romance proving that sometimes the lives of ordinary people result in out-of-the-ordinary films.
We meet Angèle indulging in a quick, mercenary bout of sex outdoors in exchange for something most women would not trade sexual favours to obtain. One's first impression is that Angele is none too bright and would fail a self-esteem test. But Angèle is an expert at surviving. She's furtive yet pragmatic. Angèle seems too young to have messed up her life yet acts like somebody badly in need of a shot at redemption. She's cagey and more than a little desperate but there's still a core of kindness and maybe even truthfulness in her.
Impossibly lanky Clotilde Hesme is quietly riveting as Angele. Hesme has quite a range – that's her in period garb as determined French heiress, Elisa de Monfort in Raoul Ruiz's Mysteries of Lisbon. You may have seen her in Philippe Garrel's Regular Lovers or Christophe Honoré's Love Songs.
Having answered a lonely hearts ad, Angèle and Tony meet in a mundane café. There's no immediate chemistry, yet she seems determined to hook up with him. Tony (played to understated perfection by tubby Gregory Gadebois who performs with the Comedie Française) can't understand what Angèle would see in him.
Angèle and Tony takes place in a fishing village in Normandy. Angèle's knowledge of fish isn't much more sophisticated than being aware that tuna is available in cans and breaded fish sticks can be found in the frozen foods section of the supermarket.
The light in Normandy is ever-changing and quite beautiful. And the characters change, too, in believable increments. One of the many things to like about this film is that it questions the schleppy guy as babe magnet. French films are littered with ornery or frankly unattractive men who have women throwing themselves at them for no discernible reason. But Tony doesn't say to himself, "A slinky young woman is after me although I'm overweight, not well-off and smell like fish – I guess that makes perfect sense!" – which is how the vast majority of French films would proceed: He's male and breathing, she's female and attractive – therefore she'll find him irresistible. But this movie is refreshingly different on the mating front. Because he's no dope and has looked in his mirror at least once in his life, Tony thinks, "Whoa – what gives? This is fishy." Pun intended.
So he resists her advances.
Much like the old saying "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you," just because Angèle may have an ulterior motive doesn't mean this can't evolve into an authentic romance.
Information is doled out in small, careful snippets, so we get to know Angèle and Tony at the same pace that they get to know each other. It is a modest film, but it's a good one with genuinely touching, incredibly nuanced performances.
There's a scene of Angèle riding a bicycle toward the camera that continues for a very long time. It should be tedious because it lasts so long and yet it's enthralling: The changing light, the expression on Angèle's face, the effort she puts into pedalling. It feels incredibly real and because of that, we feel we have a stake in her life – in her hopes and dreams.
As for Tony, his father vanished at sea some months ago, his younger brother is obsessed with locating the body, his crusty mother is soldiering on and a strike is brewing as employment prospects for fisherman grow more precarious.
It turns out Angèle wants to get married for very specific reasons, which are kept a mystery to Tony (and to us) with nicely calibrated suspense.
Nobody says much aloud, but body language and facial expressions say a great deal.
Tony displays the right amount of scepticism in the face of Angèle's gung-ho attempts to bag him. There's an organic quality from start to satisfying finish that bodes well for Delaporte's future as a director.