Sorry Angel review: a lovely, bittersweet gay romance that’s so drippingly French

Sensuality and mortality commingle defiantly in Christophe Honore’s radiant and wrenching new film, Sorry Angel (Plaire, aimer et courir vite). Premiering in competition at Cannes, the latest effort from the talented, wildly erratic, incorrigibly French writer-director is a tale of sex and death, desire and disease, love and friendship.

That of one man coming into his own and another preparing to say goodbye to the world and let its wonders slip from his grasp.

Sorry Angel tells the story of two men navigating their feelings for each other from opposite ends of that spectrum of experience: 35-year-old writer Jacques (Pierre Deladonchamps), who has AIDS, and 22-year-old student Arthur (Vincent Lacoste), who’s in the heat of his queer awakening and eager to jump into bed, and a relationship, with Jacques.

The new film from France’s Christophe Honoré unquestionably qualifies as a blue movie. Both in terms of its bedroom scenes and its dolorous palette. This witty and wise gay romance, set in the 1990s, centres on a playwright called Jacques (Pierre Deladonchamps). That is a Jean-Luc Lagarce type from France’s rural east who now lives in Paris, and whose health is in the early stages of an Aids-related breakdown.

Strung out on a work trip to Rennes, Jacques ducks into a screening of Jane Campion’s The Piano in an attempt to de-stress, whereupon an attractive young man turns and smiles at him from across the aisle.

This is Arthur (Vincent Lacoste), a briskly bisexual Breton student for whom the blue that bleeds through every shot of the film like a Jarman-esque pall feels more suggestive of broad horizons than broken hearts.

Their first conversation is all whispers and grins: It’s one of the most distinctive and delightful icebreaker scenes in cinema for years, with the disorienting joy of a close-up magic trick. “Life is more surprising than films,” the 22-year-old observes, nodding at the screen. “Life is just dumber than films,” the 35-year-old counters.

Jacques and Arthur continue their semi-relationship long distance, and we eavesdrop on a beautifully written and played extended phone call, where the older man explains his complex taxonomy of boyfriend types to his young lover-disciple, complete with a mesh of references to the writings of Isherwood, Whitman and Auden.

But this is no more tangled than Jacques’s own personal life.

He’s close friends with the middle-aged academic next door (Denis Podalydès), looks after his young son Louis (Tristan Farge), parties with an on-off lover (Clement Metayer). And cares for an ex (Thomas Gonzalez) whose own battle with Aids is approaching its tragic end.

These different aspects of his life rattle along like queer screwball, in the tumbling spirit of the film’s original French title. Plaire, Aimer et Courir Vite: “Give Pleasure, Love and Run Fast”. As Jacques’s health worsens, the prospect of more love seems futile. But this is a film big on bittersweet futility. What is the point of love, if not to bring a modicum of comfort into lives that are too short to begin with?

The 1990s setting is pivotal, since this is the era of Act Up, the radical activist movement that was recently the subject of Robin Campillo’s 120 BPM.

That film was more overtly politically charged, but Honoré’s is just as sensual. And features an extraordinary cruising sequence in which this ritual from the pre-Grindr age is performed with dance-like poise. Yet the sex itself is resolutely frank and down-to-earth.

Honoré isn’t of the tier of French filmmakers who can expect their work to be released in British cinemas as a matter of course. His last film to play here was the 2012 Jacques Demy-inspired musical Beloved. Starring two of his long-term muses, Catherine Deneuve and Louis Garrel. (The 24-year-old Lacoste is something of a young Garrel surrogate here.) With its bittersweet breeziness and smoke-wreathed, bookish wit, Sorry Angel is a fine reason to welcome him back.

INFO:

Rating: NR
Genre: Art House & International, Drama
Directed By: Christophe Honoré
Stars: Vincent Lacoste, Pierre Deladonchamps, Denis Podalydès
Written By: Christophe Honoré
In Theaters: Feb 15, 2019 Limited
Runtime: 132 minutes
Studio: Strand Releasing

CRITIC REVIEWS FOR SORRY ANGEL (PLAIRE, AIMER ET COURIR VITE)

Kevin Maher
Mostly it’s an enervating portrait, stodgy and flaccid, of two twits in love.

Randy Cordova
The city – and the film itself – seemed to be bathed in blue, and it somehow feels both warm and cool at the same time. Warm, as in richly evocative, but also crisp and unsentimental.

David Jenkins
Lavish in its beautifully written dialogue and heartfelt sincerity.

Peter Sobczynski
A film that has both a narrative and an approach that transcends the expected cliches in order to give viewers a more ambitious experience.

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