French writer and director Christophe Honoré’s Sorry Angel, a drama of gay love in early nineties Paris, is a meandering novelistic piece that manages to be perfectly fine without ever really being great.
The new film from Honoré – miserably titled Sorry Angel in English – begins with a startling credits sequence: a series of shots of Paris and Parisians, a thumping soundtrack, and a frenetic edit. With even the cast and crew credited only with their last names, it feels like a film in a hurry to get going. There’s an air of breezy urgency. Unfortunately, the credits are pretty where the economy and urgency end.
1993, Paris. Jacques (Pierre Deladonchamps) is a successful Parisian writer. We first see him waiting at a restaurant for his date, a young man who turns up late, but with whom Jacques has a familiar rapport. He has a rich busy life and while out-of-town attending the rehearsals for his play he meets Arthur (Vincent Lacoste), a young Breton student who hasn’t quite stepped out of the closet. They hook up and seem as interested in establishing a kind of teacher-student relationship as having sex and will soon be exchanging letters and in one funny long conversation when Jacques tries to explain different kinds of gays, citing W.H. Auden and Walt Whitman, while Arthur semi-seriously takes notes.
Both men have similarities. They’re both promiscuous and can be hard on their friends. Jacques behaves like a complete tosser at times: griping about his hotel room to his long-suffering assistant and shutting a dying friend out of his life in a fit of jealous pique. ‘My principles always win,’ he pompously asserts. Arthur, on the other hand, strings along a girlfriend before coming out to her. But they also have the charm to burn and a healthy appetite for life. Jacques wears naff jackets with the cuffs turned up and is vainly aware of his faded youth. He also has a young son Louis and a wide social circle. Arthur listens to Ride, does some enthusiastic cottaging and is the administrator of a local adventure camp.
Last year, Robin Campillo’s 120 BPM won many critical plaudits. Set in the same place and period, comparisons are almost inevitable, but the two films operate more as companion pieces than rivals. The lead character of Campillo’s drama was the militant Act Up group, whereas here it makes an offstage cameo as a possible touristic destination for Arthur on his first trip to Paris. Jacques, however, does have AIDs and has been reluctant to engage in the wider political battle. The film follows his lead and keeps things personal, which is a perfectly valid option.
The original French title translates as ‘Pleasure, Love and Run Fast‘. Honore’s cinematic prose style tends to stroll and some definite clangers are dropped, such as a visit to Francois Truffaut’s grave – listen carefully for the faint sound of spinning – and a moment when Jacques literally smells the roses. But Deladonchamps and Lacoste make for engaging leads and there is warmth and humour here too.
The 71st Cannes Film Festival takes place from 8-19 May.
John Bleasdale | @drjonty