THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS (Erick Zonca, 1998)

From France, Erick Zonca’s La vie rêvée des anges is one of the most infuriating working-class films imaginable. Its sentimental mythology distresses, even disgusts.
     Isabelle and Marie are joint protagonists. “Isa” has just arrived in Lille and lands a job where Marie works: a sewing sweat shop. Isa asks Marie for a place to stay the night; Marie takes her in—into a spacious flat that she is “sitting” as its inhabitants, a mother and daughter, lie in hospital following a road accident. Incompetent as a seamstress, Isa loses her job. When a club owner ends their love affair, Marie commits suicide. (The shot from Isa’s point of view when Marie slips out a window is the best one in the film.) Isa has lost the flat in addition to losing her friend; but miraculously, Marie’s death has made her a competent worker in another, more complicated sweatshop job. Only in the movies!
     Zonca’s decade-long experience at making television commercials (in New York) spares him the reason and logic, or possibly the conscience, to dispute his cut-rate view of work and working-class difficulties. This is an evil film, especially because its nonsense, at variance with what the homeless and the near-homeless must cope, is so seductive.
     Elodie Bouchez and Natacha Régnier shared the best actress prize at Cannes and the European Film Awards, with Bouchez also winning the César. Zonca won several prizes for co-authoring the script and directing. Does prejudice against workers and those struggling to survive really run that deep? Should more workers kill themselves to lift up the prospects of those they leave behind?
     Like Dietrich’s in The Blue Angel (Josef von Sternberg, 1930), Grégoire Colin’s performance as club owner Chriss grows richer and more ambiguous with each subsequent viewing.

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