Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Engelen (The Angel)

Showing at the Toronto Film Festival: Angel, directed by Margreth Olin

Synopsis from the TIFF website:

Norwegian director Margreth Olin makes her fiction-feature debut with The Angel, a searing, atmospheric study of abuse and addiction that began as a documentary project based on the life of the film's protagonist, Lea. It opens with the death of Lea's father, whose passing disrupts her idyllic rural existence as a young girl. (In the early scenes, the flowers and woods surrounding their cabin are almost as significant as Lea and her family.) Things change when her mother, Madeline, takes up with her old boyfriend Ole, an alcoholic who turns abusive when he drinks. By the time she reaches her teenaged years, Lea is already working on similar bad habits. Once heroin enters her life, Lea's battle with addiction threatens to become all-consuming – and her interaction with her infant daughter starts to mirror her relationship with her own mother.

On one level, The Angel is a precise, unflinching portrait of addiction, showing how a person's family life and environment play roles in facilitating and forming an addict. Though the film has the dreamy, drowsy tone associated with works on the same subject, it's far from typical. In many ways, this is a mystery about character and the roles we're expected to play. An individual's motivations are often obscure or unknowable. Personality assessments are speculative, even between those who share the longest and most intimate relationships. Throughout the film, the strongest and sometimes the most dangerous characters turn out to be the neediest. Madeline has always been an enigma to Lea because it always seemed like mother rather than daughter was the one who most needed to be taken care of.

Combining the hushed tone of a confessional with the helpless resignation of an elegy, The Angel approaches its characters with a respectful but perplexed deference.

Olin delivers sections of the voice-over narration, stating her desire to tell Lea's story as she'd like it to be told. By asserting her directorial voice in the film, she emphasizes the uncertain nature of character and personality.

Featuring a stellar cast, with three different performers playing the role of Lea – including Norway's most celebrated actress, Maria Bonnevie, in a brilliant turn as the adult Lea – The Angel paints a portrait of a society in which roles are reversed and the child must care for the parent.

Trailer (without subtitles):

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