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The Italian Mob

Concorde Filmverleih

The Face of an Angel (2015)

With daunting synchronicity, Michael Winterbottom's sideways meditation on the Meredith Kercher murder trial arrives just as Italian justice passes another milestone on its lengthy process of failing to get to the bottom of the case. Mr. Winterbottom and writer Paul Viragh aren't heading in that direction either, since "The Face of an Angel" has more abstract fish to fry than who precisely stabbed whom. Its business is the male heart and ego; specifically the ones inside Thomas (Daniel Brühl), whose efforts to navigate the fallout from a very similar legal case are derailed by neuroses, heartbreak, an inability to keep his pants on and a prodigious intake of gak. He is, needless to say, in the movie business.

In the film's skewed reality, Elizabeth (Sai Bennett) is maybe-murdered by Jessica (Genevieve Gaunt); and the investigation plunges into the mean streets of Siena rather than Perugia. Having been tasked with writing a screenplay about the killing by some broadly drawn film producer yahoos, Thomas hangs around with more level-headed freelance journo Simone (Kate Beckinsale) long enough for her to trip and fall into bed with him; but mostly he just gets heartsick over a busted marriage, a young daughter under the wrong roof and the mutual tragedies of Elizabeth and Jessica.

Not for the first time since 1295, such thoughts lead a man to Dante Alighieri. Thomas's working knowledge of "The Divine Comedy" — not to mention the fact that he named his daughter Beatrice (Ava Acres) — produces a head full of Dantean bad dreams and visions of dark woods, along with writer's block. His angst at the case's messy contradictions and the agonies of two families stands in for the dismay of onlookers everywhere; but the film is much more interested in Thomas's artistic soul, battered by life's emotional wear and tear.

Whether dragging real life into all this is a piece of valid high-angle objectivity or a pretty low insult might depend on your view of the director's past splices of reality and guesswork. Pretty much every adult in the story has a trail of divorces and infidelities behind him or her; and although the film isn't as mournful as "The Look of Love" about fathers and daughters, it shares its feeling that honest romantic love has become tricky in a society riddled with prurience. At least Thomas looks to literature for advice; "Art has to answer the questions that life asks," says a character, speaking for many.

The film ends looking rather brazenly in Ms. Kercher's direction; dedicated to her memory, it presumably damns all of the many vultures circling modern tragedies. As per Mr. Winterbottom's recent works, it also dares you to mock its self-knowledge before pulling back from the edge. Ms. Beckinsale's character makes reference to the physical charms of actor Colin Farrell, a reminder of all that time she spent shooting at him with blanks in "Total Recall." And Thomas's salvation arrives in the form of Cara Delevingne as an American student full of all those joys of life that Thomas has snorted up his nose. There is a theory that the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is dead; but the sight of a cheeky cheery model in leggings and boots bouncing up to an older writer and salving his wounds with a copy of "La Vita nuova" seems about as pixie as it gets.


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