Aug 8, 2019
Welcome back to the podcast! Today I’ll be reviewing a Certified Fresh French film from earlier this year, which recently became available on Netflix in the United States. I always like catching these films when they first become available, and letting you know what I think. I’ll be doing just that in a few minutes, but for a few other films in the same vein, check out “Dear Ex” (Episode #417), “The Ornithologist” (Episode #182), and “Moonlight” (Episode #037).
Before we get started, we have a promo from our friends at the Movie Geek and Proud Podcast, who were one of our very first Takeover Tuesday participants with a review of 1993’s “Addams Family Values” (Episode #261). Be sure to catch their recent Patreon episodes covering the second films in the previous two Spider-Man franchises. You can find out more at mgppodcast.podbean.com and connect to their social media accounts from there!
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Here we go!
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Today’s movie is “Sorry Angel”, the Strand Releasing period piece written and directed by Christophe Honoré. The film follows the lives of middle-aged author Jacques Tondelli (Pierre Deladonchamps) and the young, adventurous Arthur Prigent (Vincent Lacoste), who meet at very different times in their lives, against the backdrop of Paris in the early 1990s. The film was nominated for the Palme D’Or and the Queer Palm at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.
A quick trigger warning before we go on. This film deals with the AIDS epidemic, including realistic scenes of late-stage suffering, and multiple discussions of self-harm. If any of those topics might cause you distress, take a pass on today’s review and we’ll see you tomorrow.
Developing the time period is essential for any period piece. In some ways, the time period itself becomes a silent supporting character for each period piece, affecting the cast while developing the right relationship with each character, and affecting the film as a whole through the necessary costumes, sets, and locations to evoke the period. “Sorry Angel” sets the scene very well, not just by leveraging a timeless city like Paris with great costuming, but also including actions like listening to music on physical media or using wired telephone lines or watching movies on actual film to remind people of the transitional activities moving from an analog to a digital world.
The most successful period pieces, however, don’t just evoke the period as a mere stylistic affectation, although that’s definitely a bonus when it comes to period pieces. The most successful period pieces tell stories that can only be told within a particular time period, usually dealing with historical events or individuals. An excellent complement to today’s film is “BPM” (Episode #185), which is set during nearly the same time period, and focuses more on ACT UP and the organizing around raising awareness about and getting assistance to fight the AIDS epidemic. The films have quite a few parallels, with both main characters fighting AIDS, but this is a necessary part of any story about gay men in the 1980s and 1990s. Each film succeeds in bringing a different perspective to the same crisis period, in “BPM” from a street-level activist perspective, and in “Sorry Angel” from a privileged fatalist perspective. Both films succeed in helping the viewer to understand both the time period and the varied motivations of their characters.
“Sorry Angel” definitely focuses on the two main characters of Jacques and Arthur, separated not just by twenty years, but also by the differences in their lives. Arthur is experiencing a sexual awakening as he has accepted himself as gay and is exploring his sexual desires, full of youthful vigor and optimism. Jacques has the burden of his experience, someone who has seen more young men like Arthur than Arthur himself, and is struggling with his deteriorating health caused by a failing immune system. Arthur’s life is just beginning. Jacques’ is coming to a close. The juxtapositions between the two characters creates room to explore many themes specific to the time period, and more general questions about the role of sexuality and love at various periods within our lives.
ACT UP and the AIDS epidemic, however, weren’t the only stories to be told during the early 1990s. It was also a period of growing acceptance and visibility of gay men as a whole, and particularly for wealthy and famous gay men in metropolitan areas. Setting the story outside the important grassroots work of ACT UP and within this more privileged environment allows us to capture a multi-generational look at the larger gay community. We get two distinct periods in life with Arthur and Jacques, but we also get Arthur’s older friend Mathieu (Denis Podalydès), who has a thing for younger men and laments the loss of his youth, and Jacques’ son, Louis (Tristan Farge), who has a very normalized approach to and acceptance of his father’s sexuality. Each perspective gives us another piece of the place of the larger gay community within the time period. It may even be the first time in history when such a spectrum of the gay community could exist and find a measure of acceptance, instead of being mostly tokenized and isolated prior to the 1960s.
Lacoste and Deladonchamps are excellent leads, although the focus tends to remain on Jacques throughout the film. It makes sense, given the tragic story arc of Jacques, who has already struggled through the deaths of former friends and lovers, and knows what’s ahead of him given the medical treatment of the time. Deladonchamps captures Jacques very well, a great mix of depression and exhaustion, trying to remain aloof under very serious circumstances. His performance adjusts as Jacques experiences everything in the film, and remains solid throughout.
Arthur’s involvement in the film is a bit lop-sided, almost on the edge of being a supporting character at times. Lacoste’s performance definitely captures the youthful exuberance of sexual awakening, but also a surprising depth that might not be there on paper. I would have liked to have seen a better balance between Arthur and Mathieu, which would have expanded the spectrum of views on either side of Jacques. It would have retained the focus on Jacques, and maybe would have allowed for more development of Mathieu. It’s a big ask for a film already clocking over two hours, but perhaps there’s a path where minimizing Arthur a bit can overcome some slower parts in the film.
“Sorry Angel” is a very personal look at the AIDS epidemic told against the backdrop of 1993 Paris. Honorè captures the time period well and develops a story that examines a wide spectrum of gay lifestyles during the time, particularly the two great performances by Lacoste and Deladonchamps. Fans of LGBTQ films, and historical dramas, should definitely check out this film. Just be ready for a lot of heartbreak amidst the more tantalizing portions.
Rotten Tomatoes: 82% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
One Movie Punch: 8.4/10
“Sorry Angel” (2018) is rated TV-MA and is currently playing on Netflix.