Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Face of an Angel


Sai Bennett and Genevieve Gaunt

THE FACE OF AN ANGEL             B                
Great Britain  Italy  Spain  (101 mi)  2014  ‘Scope  d:  Michael Winterbottom    Official site

Michael Winterbottom has made a handful of films that were all based on actual events, from THE LOOK OF LOVE (2013), which examines how Britain’s richest man, Paul Raymond, came out of the Swinging London of the 1960’s, A MIGHTY HEART (2007), based on the memoir of the widow of slain journalist Daniel Pearl who was decapitated by terrorist abductors in Pakistan, 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE (2002), a postmodern look at Tony Wilson at the Factory Record label in the mid 70’s, a wild and raucous tale of music, sex, drugs, and the enveloping party scene at one of the most infamous dance clubs of the world, to WELCOME TO SARAJEVO (1997), a brutally authentic glimpse of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, shot on location interspersing actual war footage.  While each has a unique perspective, the films rely upon fairly conventional storytelling, where the structure of each film follows the retelling of true stories.  This film is an altogether different depiction, loosely inspired by the book Angel Face: The True Story of Student Killer Amanda Knox, which left little doubt as to the perspective of its author, Barbie Latza Nadeau, a Rome-based writer for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, who has largely been condemned as a tabloid journalist, where the film documents the media frenzy surrounding the brutal murder of Meredith Kercher, a British exchange student living abroad in the city of Perugia, Italy.  While the headline-grabbing story veered into the exploitive aspects of the alleged killer, her American roommate Amanda Knox and boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, where the murder victim herself was left out of the story while all the attention focused upon the pretty but peculiar 22-year old girl accused of killing her, who spent nearly four years in an Italian prison until the initial conviction was overturned on October 3, 2011 for lack of evidence.  On March 27, 2015, some seven-and-a-half years after their arrest, Italy’s highest court exonerated both Knox and Sollecito, while upholding a murder and sexual assault conviction of Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast native who was found guilty in October 2008 and sentenced to 30 years in prison, which has been reduced to sixteen years.  Instead of a ZODIAC (2007) style police procedural following the evidence or piecing together the clues that led to the crime, this film is a scorching exposé of the dubious nature of the salacious material used to convict Knox, where the sensationalist aspect reported at the time focused upon society’s obsession with the circumstances surrounding the death, namely sex and drugs and a perceived uninhibited, free-wheeling lifestyle of Amanda Knox, where any thought of uncovering the truth was lost in a cynical rush to judgment about her questionable morality. 

Excerpt by Bruce Fisher from Injustice in Perugia, September 2010, Barbie's Quest for Success - Injustice in Perugia 

Barbie has shown her ability to write tabloid trash in her articles throughout the course of the trial. Her preference for tabloid journalism is also apparent in her book. The title “Angel Face” is depicted to be written in blood on the cover. It is quite obvious that the intention was to show the title written in Meredith’s blood. This is a tacky cover, but not surprising coming from Barbie. I was most disgusted by Barbie’s decision to describe Meredith’s body in great detail. This served no purpose to the storyline and there was no need whatsoever to mention anything about the appearance of Meredith’s private parts. Barbie chose to do this anyway. This clearly shows that Barbie will stop at nothing, no matter how immoral the action may be, in her quest for success.

Barbie has a very interesting take on how the murder took place. Here are a few excerpts from Angel Face:

“Between 9:15 and 11:15, Amanda, Raf, and Rudy got themselves seriously messed up; Amanda asked Meredith if she could lend her money to pay Rudy, and Meredith reluctantly did so.

She prodded Rudy to go see Meredith; he went into her bedroom and started trying to kiss her and fondle her until she called out. Amanda and Raffaele went back to see what was going on, and instead of helping Meredith fend off Rudy, joined in the taunting.

By this point, Amanda, Raf, and Rudy were beyond the control of conscience. Raf took a switchblade out of his pocket and started teasing Meredith with it. Rudy had a knife in his backpack, and that came out as well. They had no intention of killing Meredith, but they were taunting her with knives on each side of her neck and she, in essence, impaled herself on the larger knife as she twisted in the grip of someone holding back her arms.

The next morning, Amanda and Raffaele wake up around 6:00 A.M. with crippling hangovers and no memories of the night before. They peek into Meredith’s room to find her battered and lifeless body, but they still can’t remember anything.

Rudy is nowhere to be found, and in fact, they don’t remember that he was there. Amanda has a hazy recollection of a black man, but the only person she can think of is Patrick.”

Barbie believes that Meredith impaled herself on the knife. They were all just teasing Meredith and it was all just a big mistake. We are supposed to believe that Amanda and Raffaele committed a brutal murder and woke up the next day with absolutely no recollection of the act.

Barbie’s theory is ridiculous. Quite frankly, she should be embarrassed that this was the best she could do. Just like prosecutor Mignini’s many theories, Barbie’s theory is based on nothing but pure fantasy.

I have little doubt why Barbie has chosen to attack those who support Amanda Knox. Barbie is only doing what she can to protect her own interests.

One last observation regarding Barbie's article. Barbie takes it upon herself to imagine what Amanda is thinking in prison. Barbie writes:

“Amanda Knox must surely cringe every time she hears that another vocal supporter in the United States has taken up her cause.”

Barbie has absolutely no idea what Amanda is thinking and she is in no position to speculate. I am sure it will come as no surprise to anyone when I tell you that Barbie is wrong about Amanda's thoughts. Amanda has thanked us repeatedly for the support and she recently thanked Steve Moore for his efforts. This is the simple truth, something that seems to be of little interest to Barbie Latza Nadeau.

From a conventional sense, Winterbottom’s film is a bit off the wall, where anyone looking for an historical account will be disappointed, as instead of dealing directly with the murder, the director, with help from writer Paul Viragh, makes this a more peculiar and challenging work by inventing a fictional scenario, inserting an alter-ego into the story, a recently divorced film director named Thomas (Daniel Brühl) who travels to the Tuscan city of Siena to research making a film on the case, which in the film becomes the murder trial of American student Jessica Fuller (Genevieve Gaunt), who has been accused and convicted of killing British student Elizabeth Pryce (Sai Bennett).  Only afterwards has there been a cry of police bungling and forensic foul play, where much of what has been written on the subject is a matter of dispute.  His introductory contact is Kate Beckinsale as Simone Ford, author of a best-selling book on the murder and an international journalist working for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, introducing him to various experts along with a horde of other reporters following the trial, all of whom rationalize their personal limitations by drinking and carousing together afterwards, exhibiting their own spectacle of vulgar coverage, each attempting to out scoop the others in a Darwinian jungle of sensationalist reporting.  Ignoring the tainted and often contradictory evidence obtained, Thomas is appalled by their crass behavior, where they believe their job is to provide and even invent, if necessary, a reasonable scenario of what happened, leading their readers through a crime scene riddled with salacious details.  Refusing to go along with the crowd, he begins to isolate himself from the group, though it’s apparent he’s being asked to do precisely the same thing by the producers of the film, where he has his own doubts about ever uncovering what actually happened, as so much remains the subject of speculation.  So he starts developing ideas of how to present the mundane through a larger artistic perspective, becoming fascinated by the idea of telling the story through the prism of Dante’s Divine Comedy, adding a sublime poetic intensity, where Dante was haunted by his love of Beatrice, where she actually becomes one of the guides in the last book, Paradiso, and the subject of a collection of poems that led to La Vita Nuova.  Adding to this internalized fantasia, Thomas named his own daughter Bea (short for Beatrice, played by Ava Acres), seen in rhapsodic slow motion in the opening scene to this ancient sounding music, The Face of an Angel Soundtrack (OST) - A Ciascun Alma (1:45), where recurring moments running throughout the film are intimate Skype conversations between the two of them, where even as his world appears to be in shatters, she obviously holds his rapt attention.

There’s a bit of Nicolas Roeg’s Don't Look Now (1973) in the air, where the ghostly spirit of a dead girl drenches the murky atmosphere with a deteriorating instability.  Identifying with Dante as “a man in the middle of his life who lost his way,” this could just as easily apply to Michael Winterbottom, an artist who repeatedly falls from grace struggling to regain some semblance of relevance once again, as Thomas, seen in production meetings with his producers, has difficulty coming up with an appropriate script, delving into the dark psychological realms, slipping into a moral slide over the edge, having a bit of a breakdown, consuming large quantities of cocaine, where the frenzied media circus (which includes himself) surrounding the incident leads to feverish nightmares producing surreal images that could just as easily be depictions from Dante’s Inferno.  There’s a yearning desire by Thomas to soak up the historical ramifications of the Tuscany region, where he goes to visit the 700-year old grave of Dante Alighieri, identifying with the man in spirit.  Perhaps most significantly, Winterbottom introduces yet another character, a young British student working in the local pubs named Mélanie, played by none other than fashion model Carla Delevingne in her first role, where her character takes on a central role, providing an astonishing degree of vibrancy and youthful energy, literally becoming in life the spirit of the murdered girl, where she represents all the wonderful possibilities that Elizabeth Price never lived to experience.  Even as Thomas desperately struggles with his script, developing paranoid delusions about some of the seedy characters surrounding the murder, Mélanie walks into his life like a breath of fresh air, always upbeat, possessed with a joie de vivre that is hard to miss, where she helps reinstall faith in himself.  Delevingne is marvelous in her role, becoming a portrait of affirmation, infused with an optimism and free spiritedness that couldn’t be more infectious, where her natural charm continually evokes images, at least in the mind of Thomas, of Elizabeth Price, where we hear the music of Phillip Glass, Phillip Glass, Violin Concerto, 2nd movement. - YouTube (8:33), but also the Vivaldi-like swirling violins from Harry Escott’s soundtrack music reach for elevated heights, The Face of an Angel Soundtrack (OST) - Fellinia - YouTube (6:20).  Winterbottom parallels the pursuit of truth in a crime thriller with the struggle to create art, as what the film becomes, ultimately, is an impressionistic tribute to the rustic beauty of Italy itself, as the director becomes immersed in the magnificent spirit of the great Italian artists, feeding off their immortal souls, becoming a cry from the ancient realms.  In a story about a young girl’s murder, it’s curious that so few are seen who are actually moved or emotionally affected by her loss, where this film, which is dedicated to Meredith Kercher, becomes a fitting tribute to her missing life. 


  1. This is so insightful, thank you for your ideas. Loved this review.

  2. Thanks for your comments and interest.