The feature filmmaking debut of photojournalist Alix Delaporte, Angel and Tony (2010) is a light and amiable affair whose arresting charms temporarily mask what is effectively a minuscule riff on the type of European film that strolls through festivals gaining the kind of plaudits it doesn’t necessarily deserve. Picking up a clutch of Most Promising Actor gongs and the Best First Film award at France’s César and Étoile d’Or Awards in Paris, respectively, Delaporte’s film is an intimate drama about loneliness, the pursuit of redemption and journey two lost souls take in search of human connection.
Rising star Clotilde Hesme plays Angèle, an anguished ex-con attempting to re-establish herself back into the life she once lead before committing an initially unnamed though accidental crime. Desperate to regain custody of her estranged nine-year-old son, Angèle arrives at the seaside town of Normandy determined to make a primary reconnection with humanity and earn an honest living. After meeting the paunchy Tony (an excellent, understated Gregory Gadebois) – a fisherman trapped between his emotional solitude and commitment to his recently bereaved mother – via a personal ad, the two form a fractured and unassuming relationship built on the uneasy acceptance that they aren’t suitably matched.
As Angèle’s resolute desire for stability takes anxious twists and turns, made increasingly complicated by her son’s grandparents and their bid to gain custody of him, the film moves forward at a leisurely pace towards a finale that is more puzzling that its outwardly happy intention suggests. Plagued by distracting subplots that overstress Delaporte’s thematic concerns and mostly lay dormant alongside the relative intensity of the film’s central narrative (namely Tony’s brother and his quest for retrieving their late father’s missing, waterlogged body), Angel and Tony is an unfocused perusal through sub-Dardennes material that would of course been more emotionally engaging in the Belgian auteurs’ more capable hands.
Blending a morose sense of naturalism, Delaporte excels at introducing characters and stitching them into Normandy’s gusty backdrop, yet its her central protagonist who drowns the film in frustrating and sometimes tedious waters. First seen trading motionless sex for an action figure, Angèle progressively shifts from being a petty thief with a forthright attitude to a promiscuous and narcissistic finagler with erratic detachment, using her mental disturbance and calculating personality to entrench herself within a peaceful community and a man with crippling vulnerability.
Angèle is rarely portrayed as a malicious person who enacts quiet ploys for normalcy, and it is a testament to Hesme’s stilted performance that she lends the film its much needed nuance. Not without its gentle moments – boosted by Delaporte’s compassionate filmmaking, Angel and Tony is an ultimately unfulfilling depiction of loneliness, mired by a hesitation to dig a little deeper.