Saturday, 7 March 2015

5 March, 2015: The Face of an Angel (2014) Directed by Michael Winterbottom **

There is a serious movie to be made about the trial of Amanda Knox for the murder of Meredith Kercher. So many loose ends, so many unanswered questions, and so much sensationalist journalism. Whether it be a documentary, or dramatization is a moot point, but there is a serious movie to be made. Mike Winterbottom’s calamitous and self-indulgent effort isn’t it. To tackle this subject properly would demand a very courageous film-maker, but Wnterbotton ducks all the issues.

The irony is that the book it is based on – Angel Face by Barbie Latza Nadeau – is, I think, a courageous attempt to cut through a subject which polarises opinion like no other. Although part of the media scrum, Nadeau, an Italian speaker, was at the time bureau chief in Rome for Newsweek and the Daily Beast and had the merit of understanding the labyrinthine Italian police and justice systems, as well as the psyche and culture of the people. She attended every day of every court hearing. Like everyone else she has a theory, but even if one doesn’t find that credible, one cannot deny that she has made a reasoned and reasonable attempt to get to the heart of the case.

The great mystery, then, is why she has allowed Winterbotton and screenwriter Paul Viragh to even claim that their sub-Antonioni nonsense is based on her book. And to add insult to injury, the character of Simone Ford (Kate Beckinsale) in the story is a less than flattering portrait of Nadeau. I guess there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Nadeau’s book affords some sympathy and respect for the family of Meredith Kercher; this movie on the other hand, whilst ostensibly being dedicated to her, is an insult to the Kercher family. Why? Because Winterbottom shamelessly uses the case as hook on which to hang a rather shabby and unedifying story about a director going through some sort of mid-life crisis whilst researching his latest movie about an English student murdered in Sienna. Not Perugia? No, because this movie fictionalises the whole case, changing names and places but keeping enough parallels as to leave us in no doubt. Insulting because the director is too lily-livered to confront any of the issues thrown up by the real events. Insulting because the movie centres around the fictional director Thomas (Daniel Brühl) who is equally lily-livered in his ham-fisted and half-hearted attempts to get to grips with the case. Insulting because at one point we are invited to see a parallel between Thomas missing his daughter who is alive and well and Skypeable on the other side of the Atlantic, and the awful void left by the death of the Kercher’s daughter.

What a self-indulgent mess this movie is. The central character, Thomas, appears to have had a personality by-pass. He seems to be haunted and pained by something, but what? Is his marriage on the rocks? If it is, we have little sympathy for him as he manages to bed at least two of the female characters during his stay in Sienna. He hangs around the place, snorting line after line, getting everyone’s backs up, and interacting with Siennese lowlife characters straight from Central Casting. Just about every character in this movie is not only one dimensional but either unsympathetic or unlikeable. The one ray of light is the acting debut of Cara Delevingne as English ex-pat student Melanie. One suspects that she is not so much acting as just being herself. If so, she must be great fun to be around. The fact that she looks so child-like imbues the relationship between Melanie and Thomas with a touch of the Humbert Humberts and makes one feel slightly uncomfortable.

I have no idea what this movie is trying to do or say other than urge us to read Dante’s Divine Comedy. The references to this text in the movie are, frankly, ludicrous as are the CGI effects that accompany them. Mike Winterbottom was at the preview I saw for a Q and A, but unfortunately the tendinitis in my left knee which had been playing up all evening became just too painful and I had to go. Opportunity for enlightenment missed, I’m afraid.

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