Peau d'Ange Review

Better known as an actor, Vincent Perez has appeared in La Reine Margot, as Christian in Cyrano de Bergerac and as The Crow in The Crow 2: City of Angels. Peau d’Ange is his first feature film as a director, and a quietly impressive debut it is too.

When his mother dies, (Guillaume Depardieu) returns to the small town where he grew up to attend the funeral, but is unable to cope with the death of his mother and is reluctant to attend the funeral. He meets Angèle (Morgane Moré) who works as a maid for a well-to-do family, telling her that he is a manager and getting her to sing for him. They spend the night together in a hotel - both are looking for different things, but there is a connection between them. Grégoire departs the next day, and Angèle is unwilling to go back to her old job – things have changed and she must move on. She finds out that Grégoire actually works for a cosmetics firm and manages to get a job as the maid for one of his colleagues, Faivre (Olivier Gourmet), hoping to bring their destinies together once again. Unfortunately, events do not turn out as she expected - Grégoire has met Laure, the daughter of the owner of the Grenier cosmetics company and Faivre’s troubled personal life causes Angèle some serious problems.

"Angèle… A Night of Love… Coincidences… Crossed Destinies…" - as the opening menu sequence of the DVD might lead you to believe, the themes of Peau d’Ange bear all the hallmarks of classical melodrama. However, while the storyline and the themes are writ large, the actual delivery is much more subtle, understated and, clocking in on DVD at a mere 81 minutes, a much more modest affair than one would expect. A lot of this is down to Morgane Moré as Angèle - her quiet control and measured performance carry the tone of the film, restraining even the more melodramatic aspects of the storyline. Quietly impressive, she portrays the frankness and openness of a young girl who believes that fate, destiny and love are intertwined. Her balanced performance even keeps Depardieu’s tortured Grégoire from going too far over the edge (and after Pola X, this is probably a good thing for the actor personally). There are good supporting performances from Dardenne Bros favourite, Olivier Gourmet (La Promesse, Rosetta, The Son) and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi.

Perez, who co-wrote the screenplay with wife, Karine Silla (Laure Grenier in the film), directs with a restraint that elegantly counterbalances the material. Although we can see the direction the film is taking, the plot devices, contrivances and import of the each scene are so understated that their impact isn’t fully realised until the end-titles roll. When you reach that point, the full force of the film becomes apparent.

This is a French Region 2 release of the film. Peau d’Ange has not yet received a theatrical release in the UK or US as yet. The feature is subtitled in English. None of the extras, bar one of the short films, is subtitled.

I’m trying (in vain) to think if I have ever seen modern French DVD where the quality was anything less than brilliant. This one certainly isn’t in the running. The picture is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 and it is faultless. Not a mark, not a scratch, no signs of artefacts or grain – just a perfectly clear, beautifully toned image. Immaculate.

In keeping with the tone of the film, the soundtrack is not showy. Dialogue is principally through the centre speaker and there is some use of the surrounds for ambience, birds twittering etc. Nothing very inventive or striking, but the nature of the film calls for an understated soundtrack and this is what we get – a nice clear soundtrack and a musical score that comes across well.

English subtitles are provided for the feature. A pleasant surprise, since there are not even French subtitles on the disc. They are clear, readable and optional. Not too many problems with the translation except that I hate the rather nonsensical English title that has been given to the film – Once Upon An Angel. Considering the difficulties of translating the French title (literally, Skin of an Angel), it is at least is in keeping with the mood of the film. The lyrics of a few songs sung by Angèle, are not translated.

Making of (5.38)
The making of is short and not really substantial – very much a promotional piece. Depardieu and Perez talk about working with each other (a partnership which they continued on Le Pharmacien de Garde) and there is some discussion on how the film was shot with as naturalistic a look as possible.

Deleted scenes
Two short scenes (1.27) and (0.35), neither of which is significant. Letterboxed 2.35:1, DD 2.0 sound, no English subtitles.

Poster Gallery
Four beautiful posters for the film.

Four behind-the-scenes shots with descriptions – 1.85:1 anamorphic.

Trailer (1.28)
1.85:1 anamorphic. Superb trailer, it accurately captures the atmosphere and style of the film and the haunting soundtrack.

Video (2.42)
A pop promotional video of the song J’ai Une Pensée by M & Céline. 1.85:1 letterbox, directed by Vincent Perez with clips from the film.

L’Echange (5.23)
"The Exchange" is a 1992 short film directed by Perez – a variation on the two people in neighbouring phone booths, talking to cross purposes subject. The director has come on a long way from this. 1.85:1 letterbox, DD 2.0. This has fixed English subtitles!

Rien Dire (9.38)
"Say Nothing", Perez’s second short film from 1999 is a huge leap ahead. Louise (Silla) has found out that her friend's mother has died in an accident. She is due to meet Emmanuelle (Bruni Tedeschi), but is unable to tell her what has happened as her father thinks it best if she finds out later from her family rather than through a friend. Scripted by Karine Silla, who co-wrote Peau d’Ange, the themes and techniques employed in the director’s first feature can be seen tested out here. Brilliantly directed, this is a powerful little short film. 2.35:1 anamorphic, DD 2.0, no subtitles. The image quality is excellent. There are a number of small white dust spots, but they are barely noticeable.

CD soundtrack
A soundtrack is included in the DVD package. With tracks by Alexandre Azaria, Hiro My Hero and M & Céline, there is more ‘music inspired by the film…’ than incidental music or the original score for the film. It’s a terrific CD though, very retro and ambient in the style of Air.

Peau D’Ange is a beautiful, lyrical and poetic treat for anyone who is a bit jaded with the current trend for shock French cinema. Not everyone is going to enjoy a film that is so unashamedly and unfashionably romantic, but with an intriguing contrast between subject matter and its treatment, this is a very pleasant and moving film, presented on a typically high quality French DVD.

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