Love is not enough in this tale of a woman struggling to look after her daughter

Angel Face

Source: Un Certain Regard

Angel Face

Dir. Vanessa Filho. France. 2018. 108mins

If wanting to be a good mother and being a good mother were the same thing, Marlene (Marion Cotillard) would pass with flying colours. A party girl whose long blonde hair has short black roots, and who pays more attention to her make-up than she does to the care of her smart, adorable, horribly lonely 8-year-old daughter Elli, Marlene is the kind of well-meaning screw-up actors love to play but audiences don’t necessarily line up to watch. A very affecting performance by Ayline Aksoy-Etaix as Elli — the “Angel Face”(Gueule d’ange) of the title — is the main attraction of this debut film by Vanessa Filho.

The entire cast does their best with borderline hackneyed material

Marlene loves her daughter, whose father is unknown. Their apartment somewhere on the French Riviera includes a life-sized tiger sculpture and Elli’s collection of stuffed animals, who she douses with capfuls of bourbon to “help them sleep.”  Marlene drinks quite a bit and nobody stops Elli from drinking, too, in settings a child has no business being.

How Marlene ended up with such a smart, poised daughter is a mystery. A friend’s stab at an explanation finds the girl wondering whether her dad was some guy named Einstein, but accepting that she’ll never know because the whole thing happened “in the dark.”

The entire cast does their best with borderline hackneyed material, and the proceedings are nicely shot by ace DP Guillaume Schiffman. Anybody with functioning reproductive organs can produce a child, but this films reminds us that being a parent is a major and never-ending commitment too overwhelming for some

A big chunk of the first half of the film is devoted to Marlene’s wedding to Jean (Stephane Rideau). Even the low-rent guests are put off by the questionable lyrics of the song Marlene performs for the groom. That very same evening, Jean find Marlene doing something you’re not supposed to do if you’re married, let alone on your wedding night.  It looks as if she’s going to go on being a single — and singular — mother.

Marlene lurches from bad choice to bad choice without ever really registering that she’s supposed to look out for her kid and not the other way around. Riveted to bad reality TV, Marlene tells Elli to go do her homework only to be told that it’s still summer vacation time. When Marlene goes on an extended hiatus with some guy she met, leaving a heartfelt phone message that she’s “not far away” and “thinks about” Elli every day but no food or money, Elli is left to her own devices.

At the local fairground Elli meets Julio (Alban Lenoir) a former cliff diver forced to retire or else risk his heart “exploding.” Elli decides that Julio will make a good substitute father and finds excuses to install herself in his trailer. Julio’s own dad lives in the apartment across the landing from Marlene but never answers the door. Why not? “I was a rotten kid,” the now kind and upright adult explains to curious Elli.

Production companies: Windy Production, Moana Films

International sales: Playtime

Producers:  Carole Lambert, Marc Missonnier

Screenplay: Vaness Filho, Diastème  François Pirot

Production design: Nicolas Migot

Editing: Sophie Reine

Cinematography: Guillaume Schiffman

Cast: Marion Cotillard, Alban Lenoir, Ayline Aksoy-Etaix, Stephane Rideau, Amelie Daure