A miscellany of cinematic influence from Visconti to Pagnol, Alix Delaporte’s Angèle Et Tony is a slow-burn love story with a lot of soul.
The Fisher King by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Immediately calling to mind Marcel Pagnol’s Angèle and Jean Renoir’s Toni, Alix Delaporte’s Angèle Et Tony transports us to a golden age of cinema, albeit on one of L’Hexagone‘s alternative coastlines. Eschewing the port of Marseille and the provençal landscape, Delaporte transports the action of her old-fashioned neo-realist romance to her native Normandy. And like Pagnol’s Marseille Trilogy, it’s a saline, everyday tale of an ordinary love, which seems to use the 1934 film Angèle as its narrative prequel. Angèle Et Tony opens on Angèle turning tedious and uncomfortable-looking tricks en plein air in exchange for the latest action man, a curiously unequal transaction. Her behaviour is only later explained with the revelation that she’s on parole and the toy is a gift for her estranged son, Yohan. But immediately we’re tossed into a proud but crushing poverty worthy of Roberto Rossellini or Vittorio De Sica. Angèle Et Tony may have the same fishy smell as Emanuele Crialese’s Respiro or Luchino Visconti’s La Terra Trema, but with its grey Norman seascapes and its own industrial flatness, it has its own savage sense of place.
Clotilde Hesme, who starred in Christophe Honoré’s Les Chansons d’Amour and Raul Ruiz’s The Mysteries Of Lisbon, is utterly beguiling as the not entirely likeable Angèle. Taciturn and calculating, her rough brusqueness keeps the world at bay, while all the time maintaining the wild alertness of a flighty doe. So when she meets Tony in a bar following a lonely hearts ad, her vagabond demeanour and bargaining personality immediately set him on edge. It’s a prison-formed habit, with sex the quid pro quo for the most meaningless trifle. But instead of taking advantage of her, Tony invites her to his farmhouse, eventually offering her both a home and a job. Their love story is perhaps one of cinema’s most mundane, and with Angèle’s cropped hair, knee-high boots and fashionable leather jacket striking a sharp comparison with Tony’s baggy t-shirts and maman-bought jeans, they make an odd couple indeed. There’s a ghost of a mummy’s boy story, which seems largely excised from the final cut, Tony having returned to live with his mum to look after the farm following the death of his father. But it’s a shackle Tony would never have been able to throw off, his love for Angèle growing out of respect and understanding instead of desperate need.
It’s an awkward situation, exacerbated by Tony’s better looking older brother Ryan and his jokes about the Laurel and Hardy couple. But out of the incongruousness of their situation, a relationship grows. Ryan poses the biggest threat to Tony’s self-assurance, convinced that Angèle will one day hook up with the urbane sailor instead, but Angèle’s needs are chauvinistically old school; she’s looking for a man who can take care of her and who can give her the stability to get her life back on track. It’s a conservative reprise of Agnès Varda’s Sans Toit Ni Loi, for a different age with more sedentary values of stability and family. And a curiously anti-feminist stance, Alix Delaporte revealing the humanity of her characters instead, both generous and needy. And while her story may at times follow the train track of small-town patriarchal order, it derails at the altar with a celebration of family instead of a wedding. The new-found family head to the beach, with Tony in the role of father rather than husband, as they begin gingerly to find their feet in this brave new world.
Like the body of a fisherman dredged from the bottom of the sea, Angèle Et Tony is the story of a soul’s redemption. In Tony’s home, Angèle finds peace. And while she may struggle against Tony’s mistrustful mother and a stream of carefully guarded secrets rising to the surface, she finds a place in the small fishing community of Port En Bessin, gutting and selling fish in the harbour and making garlands for their boat in the summer festival. She’s even roped into a play for the Little Fishermen’s Festival, aptly taking on the role of the wicked witch at the eleventh hour. She’s ferociously unpredictable but learns her lines with feverish gusto, and it’s here that Tony finally falls in love and succumbs to Angèle’s physical charms, witness to the commitment she’s made to both his family and community.
There’s a political seam running through Angèle Et Tony too, of impossible fishing quotas and angry fishermen trying to scratch a living. It’s a local activism that lends a social relevance to the film above the understated love story, as well as adding a colourful boldness to the relationship’s discreet charm. A romance unlike any other, Angèle Et Tony combines a neo-realist engagement with modern minimalism. And with Normandy in the place of Pagnol’s Provence, Alix Delaporte turns in a fine catch of northern soul.
Angèle Et Tony is released in the UK on 4th May 2011