A film inspired by the endlessly ongoing Amanda Knox affair was perhaps inevitable, but it's still surprising that the film has come around so soon, and that the man making it happen is none other than '24 Hour Party People' director and restless genre experimenter Michael Winterbottom.
Early afternoon in Florence. December, 2013. The light is wintry and pale. A couple, looking like locals, walk past the Duomo and a smattering of tourists. The girl, with long greasy hair, dressed in skinny jeans and Doc Martens, passes the guy a fag. He’s older, wearing a scruffy overcoat. Five minutes later, they’re back – again sharing a cigarette. But this time one of the tourists turns her camera from the gilded bronze doors of the church and starts snapping the girl. A gaggle of teenagers, arms linked in a chain, run over to get selfies. The girl is Cara Delevingne – and she’s been busted. The Duomo has its Renaissance charms, but it can’t pull a goofy face like Cara.
This is a film set and Michael Winterbottom is shooting a scene from ‘The Face of an Angel’. Not that you’d know it. It could be a student film – one camera, a guy with a mic. Which is how Winterbottom (‘24 Hour Party People’, ‘The Trip’) likes it. He doesn’t close off streets or hire hundreds of extras, and there’s not a trailer in sight. But with a supermodel come problems. ‘Shit. Paparazzi. We don’t have security,’ mutters a producer. Delevingne is bundled into a car for the two-and-a-half hour drive to Rimini, where they’ll be shooting a beach scene tomorrow.
In a Rimini hotel later that night, looking a little tired, Winterbottom sets some facts straight. This film is not ‘the Amanda Knox movie’, as has been reported. The focus of his story is on the media circus around cases like the murder of Meredith Kercher in 2007. Daniel Brühl (Delevingne’s ignored other half outside the Duomo) plays a filmmaker who wants to make a film about a similar case – names and place have been changed. In Italy he meets a journalist (Kate Beckinsale) covering the story.
The film explores how a trial like Amanda Knox’s can descend into a popularity contest, and how difficult this makes it to find out the truth. ‘There were people in our office working on the script, who were like, “I think she’s guilty,” or “I think she’s innocent,”’ says Winterbottom. ‘To me, from the beginning, it was clear: we’re never really going to know what the truth was.’ In the frenzy, the victim is forgotten. ‘The girl who was killed disappears. A family have lost their daughter, their sister.’ ‘The Face of an Angel’ is dedicated to the memory of Meredith Kercher.
As for Delevingne, Winterbottom calls her a ‘screen natural’. She might be a supermodel but she still had to audition for the role of Melanie, an English student in Italy for a year. ‘Melanie represents youthful energy and joy in life,’ says Winterbottom. ‘That’s Cara. She has all these teenage girls queuing up outside her hotel every day and she’s always charming and nice. I met Cara for five minutes and knew she was perfect.’
‘The Face of an Angel’ screens at the London Film Festival on Sat Oct 18 and Sun Oct 19. It is expected to open in UK cinemas in early 2015.