By John Esther
Considering the films he has written, directed and/or produced, it's not easy to see why Luc Besson and his film, Angela-A, were invited to this year's Sundance Film Festival. This is the festival, after all, that's supposed to be about finding great new voices outside of - and, ideally, who challenge - the mainstream entertainment apparatus.
Besson, the man behind such movies as Atlantis, La Femme Nikita, Léon, The Fifth Element, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, Wasabi, The Transporter, Unleashed, Arthur and the Invisibles, Bandidas and dozens of other soft-boiled titles, is about as independent-minded as the music of Oasis, the films of Quentin Tarantino, or a documentary on global warming featuring an ex-politician who allowed George Bush to steal the presidency from him. The fundamental difference between these artists and their crass commercial counterparts is the extra effort they put into stylizing their product.
Besson trekked up to the mountains of Utah to promote the out-of-competition entry, Angela-A. A neo-Howard Hawksian blend of Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire and Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Besson produced, wrote and directed this film about a Parisian, Andre (Jamel Debbouze of the excellent Oscar-nominated Days of Glory), who is so down on his luck he decides take his life. Moments before Andre does his part to fight global warming - see the Inconvenient Truth segment on overpopulation - a beautiful, elongated blonde, Angel (Rie Rasmussen), appears to rescue him. Angel’s mission is to show Andre how he needs to learn to love himself so that he can love others. (The Nouvelle Vague is Dead!)
To give this film its primal Bessonion edge, Angel performs a few less-than-angelic tasks that might render her to here for eternity. Like any other Besson film I can remember, in Angela-A, the good outweighs the bad, villains are seriously injured and love conquers the hardened heart. In Park City, Utah, I spoke with Besson, along with Rasmussen, about their film, other films that have shocked the French director, and about how various audiences respond to decapitation.
What do you have in common with Andre?
Luc Besson: [Laughs]. It’s easy. Andre is me. It’s the story of every man at the moment in which you have to accept you are not Brad Pitt. You look in the mirror and say, “Okay, I am not Brad Pitt. And you know what, I have to deal with it.” If anything, I think it is the same for women. It comes from the publicity, the image, we have now of the man and the woman. It’s so fake.
Rie Rasmussen: They’re not 16-years-old with Photoshop. It’s unfair. No woman looks like that. Sometimes there are people who are genetically compatible - my parents were, and I’m happy, but that’s it. But if you are 16, from Russia, and you have an eating disorder, and they put Photoshop on you, nobody is going to look like that. It’s fake.
When did you have that moment?
LB: It comes a little piece-by-piece. I come from a divorced family, and very young, you think you are undesired. You have to say, “I’m here.”
Is that the gist of Andre’s arc? That people can change on the inside but they cannot do anything about the outside?
LB: Yeah, and it’s also a fact that the lie is not the solution. The more you lie, the more you go down. It’s a spiral. It’s lie after lie after lie after lie. He lies to portray an image he thinks people will like, but it’s not him, and he knows it. So what about being loved with what you are? A little piece here and there, and you understand the message. I remember ten years ago, this young actress who had so much make-up on. Normally, I’m gentle and polite, and I was gentle, but I said, “Do you mind going to the restroom and just take everything out because I don’t know who you are?”
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