This weekend, through the power of Netflix, I was able to finally see Angel-A, a film by Luc Besson, director of Leon: The Professional (my favorite Gary Oldman movie) and The Fifth Element. It came out last year, but sort of slipped below the surface, as most foreign films are wont to do in the US market.
Shot entirely in black and white, on location in Paris, the movie is about André (played capably by Jamel Debouze, who you may remember as Lucien in Amélie), a down-on-his-luck (almost) good-for-nothing. After facing the fact that he owes immense sums of money to gansters and lowlifes all around Paris, he decides to kill himself by jumping off a bridge into the Seine. While standing on the edge, he looks over to see a beautiful, statuesque woman (Rie Rasmussen as Angela), about to end it all on the same bridge. He saves her, and in return, she follows him around Paris, helping him pay back his debts and right his wrongs through more bizarre and surreal methods.
The film is almost thematically divided in two lopsided parts - the former is relatively funny and almost light-hearted considering the circumstances; the latter - more dark and dramatic (revelations abound!) The whole film is beautiful - deep, inky blacks and luminous pearl whites in the city for which black and white photography was practically invented. From a photographic stand-point, it's downright sexy.
While "classically" shot and lacking in hand-to-hand combat, this is unmistakably a Luc Besson film; there are surreal (some would say sci-fi) themes, some obvious one-liners and a beautiful but lethal and scantily clad female lead. Besson's films have a tendency to follow a smart, strong woman who acts as the pillar of a male/female dichotomy, until she ultimately needs the support of the man... while better than 99% of the portrayals of women on film, some may argue he's falling into a thematic rut.
While Angel-A isn't perfect, it's engaging and bold, and who doesn't like a little dose of simultaneously languid and rapid Parisian French every now and then? Check out the trailer for yourself.