Angel-AStylemeister Luc Besson’s latest proffers a bizarre change of tack from the violent action of ‘Leon’ and ‘The Fifth Element’. Here he essays a Paris-set romantic comedy which incorporates an idiosyncratic mix of Capra-lite redemptive spirituality, the monochromatic cinematic flourish of ‘Wings of Desire’, alongside as dreamy, picaresque and sentimental a tribute to the City of Lights as ‘Amelie’. Jamel Debbouze (currently France’s biggest TV and film star) plays André, a diminutive, one-armed minor criminal up to his short neck in debt and death threats, who is contemplating a ‘Boudu’-like suicide from the Pont Neuf, when he spots micro-skirted Angela (Rie Rasmussen, the leggy beauty from De Palma’s ‘Femme Fatale’) plunge into the Seine. He saves her. André, who’s black and ‘moral’, thinks himself ‘stupid, ugly and useless’; Angela, who’s white and sluttish, seems omniscient, beautiful and finds her purpose trying to redeem and re-invigorate the poor, naive, lovelorn but essentially good-hearted chancer. Like a low-life parody of ‘Before Sunset’, Besson follows this lost soul and his fallen angel through both the sleezy and glitzy streets of central Paris, as love inevitably dawns.
The thing that first hits you in the eyes is the miraculous cinematography of Thierry Arbogast (the writer-director’s regular DP, using widescreen and black and white): vertiginous crane shots from over the Eiffel Tower, a ‘how’d-he-do-that?’ unbroken glide around both sides of a toilet mirror. But the script is such a showman’s bag of self-mocking clichés, empty tricks and metaphysical baloney, and the heart is never touched. Crucially, even the performances disappoint: Debbouze is initially sympathetic and funny but tires through repetition; Rasmussen stays merely statuesque.