Angel Face (Gueule d’ange) (Vanessa Filho, 2018): France

Reviewed by Kassandra Ni. Viewed at the 2019 Santa Barbara Film Festival.

Vanessa Filho’s Gueule d’ange (2018) is a hidden gem for film festival goers and cinemophiles. The film is based on the delicate relationship between a mother and her daughter (set in present day France) and the effects of alcohol addiction on their relationship. The film tells of a troubled single mother who prioritizes her social life and friends over her own young daughter. After going to countless parties the mother, Marlene, abandons her daughter, Elli. This leaves Elli to live alone in their apartment, trying to solve the puzzle of who her mother is and who she is as a young girl. Filho, manages to gracefully show Elli’s lonesome journey of raising herself in a world that looks down upon her and her mother.

Being cast as the mother of the film, Marion Cotillard, assumes this role with a dynamic perspective on Marlene. Marlene, is a character that the audience loves to hate in the beginning of the film; with her careless view of life and her depressive neglect of Elli, Marlene is a fallen character. She possesses a loss of morals and the audience is captivated by her own selfishness and also vulnerability as an insecure person. We want to see Marlene change for the better–to live a life that can support her daughter, while also being a part of Elli’s life rather than on the side of it. Having Marion Cotillard understand this purpose and point of view of the character aides in evolving the plot of the film from a depressing drama into something more hopeful and forgiving.

This character development is just as important for Ayline Aksoy-Etaix’s character, Elli. Etaix has to portray a innocent/ vulnerable child, fighting for the attention of her mother. Throughout the movie, the audience watches Elli drink away her sadness and try to to embrace the lifestyle of the the only person she ever admired, her mother. Trying to emulate her mother with sticker tattoos and excessive use of makeup, Elli starts to become bullied by her peers and ridiculed for her different style and personality. Alone with no one to trust, Etaix’s portrayal seeks the audience’s empathy and asks the question: how different am I to you?

Having Filho mention (in the Q+A following the screening) the importance of using a tough young actress to play this role, truly shows within this film. The character of Elli has to be strong and versatile to carry the plot of the film, as well as relay the film’s guiding theme to the audience. Etaix does this so beautifully as she delights audience members with the hope of a better a day and the determination to continue living her life even when she is alone and without guidance from her mother. With the actress having to film scenes in which she is drinking alcohol heavily is tough to watch, but is essential to telling Elli’s story. This is a must see movie with a magnificent cast as well as a spectacular story from the directorial debut of Vanessa Filho.

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