Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Sorry Angel (Plaire, aimer et courir vite)

Director Christophe Honoré

Honoré on the set with actors Pierre Deladonchamps (left) and Vincent Lacoste

Honoré (left) and actor Vincent Lacoste

Honoré flanked by Vincent Lacoste (left) and Pierre Deladonchamps

Actors Pierre Deladonchamps (left) and Vincent Lacoste

SORRY ANGEL (Plaire, aimer et courir vite)                       B+      
France  (132 mi)  2018 d:  Christophe Honoré

At four in the morning in summer,
The sleep of love still lingers,
Under the arbors dawn evaporates
            The scent of the festive night

―Rimbaud, Bonne Pensée du Matin (A Pleasant Thought in the Morning), May 1872

A return to form for Honoré after the disaster that was Métamorphoses (2014), a rare misfire for this director who has always made intelligent films with a keen eye for deeply probing character studies, always conveying a literary spirit, which emphasizes this director’s strong point, as this is like watching pages of a novel unfold.  Described by Honoré as the grim and terrifying days of his youth, this is his most overtly autobiographical film, following the career path of Rimbaud and others who came from the provinces to seek their fame and fortune in Paris, in this case following the path of a gay student from Rennes, the capital city of Brittany, with a burning desire to become a filmmaker.  Played by Vincent Lacoste, Arthur in his early 20’s studies philosophy and likes to read, still in a relationship with a girl, though he’s about to be swept off his feet in his first gay relationship, yet he is not the focal point of the film.  That would be Pierre Deladonchamps, from Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger By the Lake (L'inconnu du lac)  (2013), playing Jacques, a sophisticated writer and playwright who’s nearing 40, irresistibly charming, erudite, and overtly gay, though recently diagnosed with the HIV virus, set in 1993 when this was paramount to a death sentence, as available medicine of the time might extend the death sentence for a year or two, but it was inevitable.  Death hovers over many of the central characters who have learned to deal with it as an everyday occurrence.  Purely by chance, this is the same time period as Robin Campillo’s 2017 Top Ten List #8 BPM (Beats Per Minute (120 battements par minute), though this film is not political, but amorous, revealing matters of the heart, navigating the fears and anxieties of a budding romance, largely seen through the point of view of Jacques, a curiously self-centered character who intentionally limits his options by being more distant and cautious, perhaps even growing more introspective, yet still refuses to shy away from having grand love affairs.  Told out of time in a non-linear fashion, Jacques is in Rennes for a production of his latest play, while Arthur is a local college student, meeting in a movie theater watching Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993) where they catch each other’s eyes, with Jacques changing seats to sit next to him, flirtatiously wondering, “I resent how cute your generation is,” suggesting they meet later in front of the theater.  In a humorous diversion, a chatty woman (presumably the lead in his play) grabs ahold of Jacques, talking incessantly, joking about his frequent interchangeable lovers, but also blurts out that he has AIDS, with Arthur overhearing (this doesn’t seem to faze him), trailing close by afterwards, hiding behind trees and lampposts, following like a shadow in the night.  

Honoré was himself a boy from Brittany and would have been the same age as Arthur back in 1993, having begun his writing career at Cahiers du Cinéma in Paris in 1995 before going on to write novels and plays before discovering a true love for cinema.  On an early trek to Paris we see Arthur and a cadre of friends making a pilgrimage to the gravesite of François Truffaut at the Montmartre cemetery, where they break out a little alcohol and dance, like a celebratory college ritual to the musique du jour, M.A.R.R.S. - Pump Up The Volume YouTube (7:04).  Earlier we see that Arthur was a summer camp director, visited by his former girlfriend Nadine (Adèle Wismes), still a bit incredulous that he’s attracted to guys, secretly meeting up with them in late night hookups during their relationship, inquiring, “How could you be with someone like me and still sleep with them?”  Arthur responds that he always thought he preferred the company of girls, acknowledging the discovery was only recent, plunging headfirst into the fray, still questioning and exploring his queer identity.  One of the things Honoré does so well is introduce both characters individually on their own before they meet, adding texture and gravitas to their interior worlds, which makes their initial tryst that much more explosive, as viewers can already identify with each of them.  Arthur is eager and openhearted, terribly excited to explore a new world, while Jacques is hesitant, more reserved and world weary, yet hyper-articulate, peppering him with clever conversation steering him directly into his inner soul, while at the same time resigned to the idea that he will never again experience that initial thrill of excitement with somebody new, as the man knows his time on earth is limited, with zero hour fast approaching.  In Paris, Jacques lives with his young son Loulou (Tristan Farge), sharing joint custody with the boy’s mother, Isabelle (Sophie Letourneur), who is something of a delight, reminiscent of Bernadette Lafont from Chabrol’s Les Bonnes Femmes (1960), while also neighbors with an old friend, Mathieu (Denis Podalydès), who works as a journalist.  In one of the more intriguing scenes, Jacques invites a former lover to his home, Marco (Thomas Gonzalez), who is weak and at the end stage of the disease, joining him in the bathtub for a moment of shared tenderness, an image that is repeated later on purely in his imagination, as it happens after Marco’s funeral.  On the wall is a Fassbinder QUERELLE (1982) poster signed by Andy Warhol, while on another wall is a Léos Carax poster for Boy Meets Girl (1984).  The film does not shy away from nudity or male copulation, where sex continues to be a major part of their lives even as their bodies break down and weaken, often the only sign left that they’re still alive. 

After their first fling, Arthur sends plenty of postcards to Jacques in Paris afterwards, but hears nothing back, losing hope that he’ll respond, so when he does it comes as a most unexpected surprise, receiving a phone call just as he’s about to have hot sex with a hitchhiker he picks up along the highway, described as a young “blond with a cute ass,” with Jacques on the other end wanting to hear all about it, offering a detailed description of the various gay types (which has Arthur taking notes on the other end), including the Maxim’s type embodying youth and illusion, or the Walt Whitman type known for sleeping around, the Vondelpark, an impassive Nordic that shows little emotion, or the Wrong Blond, not exactly who you expected, but he’ll do.  Among the more hilarious sequences in the film, it has the effect of elevating gay imagery to an iconic status, which adds to the underlying lore of a film like this, which is curiously a romance where the lovers are rarely in the same city together, where they are basically alone, building tension by the degree to which they are separated, existing for the most part in a long distance relationship.  By the time Arthur decides to come to Paris for a visit, Jacques has begun serious medical treatment and is in a hospital room, with Arthur audaciously stripping naked to lay down next to him.  It’s there in the hospital lobby that he meets Loulou and Isabelle, with Loulou quoting Rimbaud, reciting to Arthur a poem where The sleep of love still lingers.  Honoré uses period music to great effect, including a love scene set to the quiet hush of Cowboy Junkies - I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry - YouTube (5:25), but also an extended sequence of lush operatic music by Handel that features a gorgeous soprano castrato aria, Ariodante: Aria: Scherza infida - YouTube (8:40), adding layers of depth to this beautifully textured film where all the actors are simply outstanding, continually elevating this material into a different stratosphere.  By the time Arthur decides to move to Paris, filled with youthful ideas about the world of possibilities, Jacques is too gravely ill to meet him.  However, when he does happen upon him in a lingering moment, the sparks quickly rekindle, exploring the Parisian streets until dawn, romantically sleeping by the side of the Seine, where a new day awaits them.  Arthur is drunk and high on life, in stark contrast to the fading gleam in Jacques’ eye, yet his hilarious dance sequence with the old fogies, Jacques and Mathieu, brings a moment of sheer delusion into their otherwise restrained lives, almost believing they are young again, even hopping into bed together as a threesome, but this is immediately rectified as overly ambitious, just a momentary loss of reason before reality sets in.  The film is wildly ambitious and may not hit the director’s previous high notes, but it plumbs the depths of a literary work onscreen, with the epic sweep of Magnolia (1999), remaining deeply moving and profound.


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    1. I think Honoré is one of the unsung directors of his generation, very overlooked by most of the critics, yet his work is always intellectually probing and extremely high quality.