Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle The Dreamlife of Angels

By Marc Savlov

MAY 17, 1999: 

D: Erick Zonca; with Elodie Bouchez, Natacha Régnier, Grégoire Colin, Jo Prestia, Patrick Mercado. (R, 113 min.)

In the city of Lille, France, an unlikely alliance is formed between two disparate young women -- Isa (Bouchez), a slender naïf burdened with an oversized rucksack and a daffy, close-cropped shock of black hair, and Marie (Régnier), the intelligent, hopeless romantic who takes her in when she has nowhere else to go. The pair meet at a local sewing factory where Isa, broke and homeless after finding that her contact in Lille has moved away, secures a (very) temporary job behind a clanking industrial sewing machine. It's the sort of make-work that goes on in any town, you suppose, fast cash for the hungry and abandoned, but Isa lacks the knack and promptly bungles the job. Catching a smoke with the stand-offish Marie, she innocently ingratiates herself into Marie's hesitant graces and follows her new friend home. It's not actually Marie's place, but the home of a mother and child who were recently injured in a car crash; they're both in the hospital (we later learn that the mother is dead, the girl in a coma) and Marie is in charge of their extensive flat. As much a free spirit as Marie is a brooder, this sudden collision with Isa charges Marie's batteries -- together the two of them go out in search of fun, eventually ending up with a pair of burly club bouncers Frédo and Charly (Prestia, Mercado). Isa rejects Fredo's advances, but Marie, clearly starved for attention, latches onto the hulking, introspective Charly. When she later runs into the pair's wealthy, clubowner boss, Chriss (Colin), she begins to distance herself from the employee in favor of the employer, leaving both Charly and Isa to wonder where her allegiances lie. "Nowhere" appears to the correct answer in Zonca's film, which won France's prestigious Cesar award as well as netting Best Actress awards for both Bouchez and Régnier at Cannes '98. It's easy to see why: In a film that essentially consists of the day-to-day travails that flux across the lives of these two utterly distinct, utterly normal young women, Bouchez and Régnier manage to make every scene (or non-scene as the case may be; there's often so little going on on the surface here that you wonder exactly what Zonca's point is) crackle with a static charge. When Isa takes it upon herself to begin caring for the comatose young girl in the hospice, she discovers a new goal for herself. Marie, at odds with just about everyone and everything by film's end, resorts to cheap and vicious mockery at Isa's emotional openness -- she sees it as a badge of weakness. Zonca, and more importantly Bouchez and Régnier, capture not just the days of their lives but the very seconds. Not a shot drifts by that isn't laden with portentousness, and though I suspect many people will find the film to be "too French," it's nonetheless a tour de force on all available fronts.
3.0 stars

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