Based on the novel by Elizabeth Taylor, this Francois Ozon directed movie was the closing film of the Berlin Film Festival last year, and while it played out like a biography of a fictional character, you can't help but to imagine how close it seemed to the flamboyance of the other Liz Taylor being infused into the titular character.
Movies based on biographies, such as Miss Potter with Rene Zellweger, Becoming Jane with Anne Hathaway and La Vie En Rose with Marion Cotillard, seem to follow a formula of rags to riches, and basically living the dream that no one had imagined was possible. Naturally, being blessed with a talent and a gift helps too, and with Angel Deverell (Romola Garai), hers was a steely resolve of wanting to break out of her poverty cycle through her writing, an aspiring novelist with limited life experience, relying solely on her vivid imagination to paint literary marvels with her firm grasp of language, constructing sentences like a wordsmith many times her age.
What made her character compelling to watch and follow, is her living in a fantasy world she constructs for herself, which suits her perfectly as it provides for and fuels her imagination with romantic stories to enchant and endear herself to her readers. It shields her from her insecurities, but in doing so, she slowly isolates herself into her view of Paradise, and becomes a chronic liar, which I felt she's constantly aware of, but is ashamed to admit any stain in the perfect world.
Delivered in two distinct acts, things start to change when she meets the Howe-Nevisons. Nora (Lucy Russell), probably her #1 fan who simply worships the ground she treads on, and offers to be her personal assistant, and her brother Esme (Michael Fassbender from 300 who said they'll fight in the shade!), with whom Angel falls head over heels for. And this stifling relationship takes a toil on all parties involved, with shades of possible lesbianism played down in the film (though I'm unsure what became of it in the novel). While Angel had her break from Theo (Sam Neill) the publisher who believed in her, Esme the aspiring painter has none, besides Angel who would probably say Yes to anything he says. And his portrait of her probably was the highlight for me in the movie. If a portrait painter needs to, and can peer directly into your innermost soul and bring whatever qualities he sees in you onto the canvas, then Esme would have succeeded with his god-ugly picture of Angel, reinforces meaning of being beautiful on the outside. but ugly on the inside.
The special effects were quite badly done, and perhaps deliberately too, as it's made up of very obviously superimposed shots of backgrounds that no longer exist because of modernization. Other than that, the rest of the production values are high, and the costumes too which Angel decked herself in, are quite a sight to behold, especially when there's a call for a change in colours to reflect the mood of the story as it wore on.
But what made this movie very palatable, is how Romola Garai (you'd remember her from Atonement) carried the role through the story. You can just about believe the very naiveness and devil may care attitude that her Angel brings, however always seemingly able to hide and bury her true feelings deep within herself, and being a master manipulator also helped loads. Like how Charlotte Rampling's character of the publisher's wife reflected, you just can't help but to pity Angel, despite her pomp, flamboyance and hypocrisy.
So if you're interesting in a movie that provides avenue for an intriguing study of a person putting on a very fake mask, then Angel, despite its title, will be the movie for you to examine human traits which are anything but angelic.