[MetroActive Movies]

[ Movies Index | SF Metropolitan | MetroActive Central | Archives ]

Waif Until Dark

[whitespace] The Dreamlife of Angels Angelic Elodie: Bouchez floats between muse, model and movie star.

Farika



Élodie Bouchez soars in 'The Dreamlife of Angels'

By Michelle Goldberg

When Élodie bouchez first saw the script for her acclaimed new movie, The Dreamlife of Angels--a script that neophyte director Erick Zonca said he wrote just for her--her heart sank. Although there was one really juicy part in the story (the tough, tortured Marie), Bouchez thought her character, a sweet, drifting waif named Isa, was too passive, too blank.

"He wrote the script for me, and I was very flattered, but when I read it I was disappointed," Bouchez says. "There was not much material there. Marie's character was very rich and interesting, a great character. Isa was just there to be behind her."

But Bouchez, who at 25 had already made 18 movies, had seen Zonca's short films, and she wanted to work with him. Given a role that was kind of an empty canvas, she created an enchanting, sprightly nomad, a soulful imp every bit as rich as her onscreen best friend, the raging, self-destructive Marie.

"I stayed open and let Isa come to me--but unconsciously. I discovered her, and I had fun with her," Bouchez says. "I cut off my hair and picked clothes for her. When I told Erick the way I thought she was, he said, 'That's not what I imagined, but I like it, and I'm going to push you that way.' I discovered that she was funny, she was cute, she was like a little boy. And I had a very good time with her. She made me laugh many times."

The tumultuous relationship between Marie and Isa is at the center of The Dreamlife of Angels. A lovely, deeply empathetic film about the joys and limits of friendship and the shattering power of romantic desperation, Dreamlife has won just about every award France has to give. Bouchez and her co-star, Natacha Régnier, shared the Best Actress award at Cannes. The film won the César (the French version of an Oscar) for best French film, while Bouchez won Best Actress and Régnier received the Most Promising Young Actress award (an honor Bouchez received in 1995 for her role in André Téchiné's Wild Reeds).

The film begins with Isa's arrival in the depressed Northern French city of Lille with nothing but her backpack and the homemade greeting cards she sells on the streets. A kindly Yugoslavian man gives her a job in his factory, a job she botches horribly, but not before making friends with another employee, the brusque, guarded Marie.

Marie is watching the flat of a mother and daughter who are comatose in the hospital after a car accident, and she lets Isa move in. The two share a period of idyllic camaraderie before Marie is undone by her relationship with a rich, callous nightclub owner, whom she falls for after he saves her from a shoplifting charge by paying for her stolen leather jacket.

A kind of chaste love affair, the young women's friendship is giddy and exuberant. Momentarily blessed with each other and a free flat, they're given a brief reprieve from dreary day-to-day life. Both are outsiders in a kind of perpetual rebellion, but their revolts are distinctly different--Isa's comes from her wide-eyed wandering bohemianism, while Marie's is darker and altogether more furious.

Tiny, dark-haired and doe-eyed--a ragamuffin Audrey Hepburn with a sparkling toothy smile--Isa is utterly open, possessed of a quirky grace and a dignified optimism. "Isa is like an angel; she only gives, she never receives," Bouchez says. Marie, meanwhile, is wan, cat-eyed and coiled, her beauty hidden under a sneer. She also, unsurprisingly, proves to be by far the more vulnerable of the two.

In the subplot that gives the film its name, Isa finds the journals of the young girl in the hospital. She begins visiting her and reading from the diaries, hoping that hearing her own words will stir or comfort the girl. Isa grows deeply involved with the unconscious stranger, but Marie is contemptuous of her project, the first signal of an incompatibility that will become almost tragic.

For a brief period, though, Marie and Isa are inseparable as they run around Lille tormenting strange men at the mall (a wonderful scene that was improvised with a hidden camera), trying to sneak into nightclubs and befriending two motorcycle-riding bouncers. Though The Dreamlife of Angels isn't about class in the way that, say, Mathieu Kassovitz's harrowing La Haine was, the sense of these girls' limited futures pervades the film, creating alternating feelings of fatalism and freedom. Having nothing leads to a kind of unbearable lightness.

Bouchez and régnier lived together during the shooting, and one could suppose that's what led to the authenticity of their onscreen friendship--the way an awkward shyness leads to easy intimacy. But Bouchez says that in real life, their relationship never got past the first stage.

"We shared a flat together, but we didn't try to work there," Bouchez explains. "We respected each other, but we were too different to ever become close. We didn't like the same music, we didn't like to eat the same foods; I brought my dog, and she hates dogs. Everyone keeps asking if we were great friends, but really, we weren't." Still, that only underscores their achievement in creating the illusion of such an intense bond.

Watching Bouchez's other films, one sees the same kind of tenderness in her performances, especially in André Téchiné's bewitching coming-of-age film, Wild Reeds. Set in Southern France during the country's war with Algeria, that film also got much of its poignance from the flush of young friendship, this time between Bouchez's Maite and her best friend, François, who's just discovering that he's gay. In Wild Reeds, Bouchez exuded the same kind of loyal compassion and earthy luminescence that's so moving in The Dreamlife of Angels, making her role in creating Isa all the more clear.

The international success of The Dreamlife of Angels is quickly catapulting Bouchez into the kind of fame only a few French actresses (most notably Julie Delpy and Juliette Binoche) have found in the United States. Her stateside renown will likely further increase after her next two films, which are both American.

One, Shooting Vegetarians, a movie about a herbivore and his butcher father ("I play the happy coffee-shop girl," she says) is to be filmed in New York. The other, a light parody called The Beatniks, will be shot in L.A. Both those are independents, but, unsurprisingly, Hollywood has been calling, too.

"I know that as a French actress, if you make a movie that has some success, then Hollywood starts proposing some work for you," she says. "In France, I'm in films with intelligent scripts, so I don't think that will change here. I'm attracted to films that are very independent. I would do a Hollywood film if it had integrity."

Already, Bouchez has the aura of incipient stardom around her. She's had her first Interview Magazine layout, and it's not hard to imagine a Vanity Fair cover in her future. If she does decide to go Hollywood, though, one can only hope Hollywood can make a film that's worthy of her, because her acting's ineffable sensitivity shouldn't be squandered.


The Dreamlife of Angels (NC-17; 113 min.), directed by Erick Zonca, written by Zonca and Roger Bohbot, photographed by Agnès Godard and starring Élodie Bouchez and Natacha Régnier, opens Apr 9 at the Embarcadero Theater.

[ San Francisco | MetroActive Central | Archives ]


From the April 12, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.




Foreclosures - Real Estate Investing
San Jose.com Real Estate