Un Ange Passe translates, literally, to “an angel is passing.” The French often use this idiom for moments when a conversation inexplicably falls silent, humorously spurring the speakers out of an awkward rut, as they refer to the imaginary figure above them. An English equivalent is difficult to find, though, perhaps, a combination of the tumbleweed image and the phrase “silver lining” comes closest. In Philippe Garrel’s films, at times so tender as to be ascetic, moments of conspicuous silence abound and achieve a resonance not unlike that of the use of negative space. It’s hard to think of another filmmaker in recent memory who can make the soft white buzz of a room sound so compelling—and clarifying. In the case of Garrel’s eighth feature, from 1975, this clarity materializes in the figure of his muse and lover, Nico. Fittingly, the film begins with her, alone, sitting outside on a street bench, deep in thought, while her live rendition of “Frozen Warnings” plays on the soundtrack.
Like many of Garrel’s other films from this period, Un Ange Passe works on a model of long, uninterrupted takes on the faces of its characters, subdued and wistful. There’s no discernable plot or recourse to the characters’ backstory, as usual in a Garrel film—only said faces and their manifold expressions. The scenes, more like blocks of time, are composed of casual snippets of dialogue between Maurice Garrel (the director’s father), Laurent Terzieff, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, and Bulle Olgier; they’re strewn together with no apparent motivation, the opposite, you could say, of traditional cross-cutting methods. Maurice, the oldest and most haggard of the group, and Terzieff, young and handsome, share the most screen time. The two sip drinks and chain smoke out in the cold, joking about, among other things, Albert Camus wanting to be Humphrey Bogart. Later, there’s talk of going to Morocco. The frame is snug around their faces, and one can just imagine Garrel tightly holding the camera, trying to focus.
These are austere scenes of characters whose backstory we don’t know, and yet they’re hardly boring in the way that Warhol’s screen tests—a point of reference for Garrel’s brand of portraiture—are and intend to be. Instead, Un Ange Passe is rife with poignancy so natural that it’s unclear if these are actors are playing characters or if they’re merely being themselves. This could be a documentary, were it not for the otherworldly, non-sequitur cuts to Nico and abrupt switches in the soundtrack to her singing voice. If any semblance of structure can be gleaned from this film, it’s that Nico occupies a different plane than the other characters; Garrel isolates her from the conversations held among the quartet, and inserts her whenever they lapse into deep silence. She’s his necessary angel.
The film’s most intimate scene, however, goes to Maurice and Terzieff, who’re beautifully positioned by Garrel. Reclining on a sofa, Terzieff smokes his pipe, his face petering above the bottom of the frame, while Maurice sits straight in the background, his head hovering over Terzieff’s. Terzieff speaks of dreaming, of angst, chuckling as he goes. Maurice listens like a good psychiatrist and stares off inconsolably, before he invokes some lines from Henri Michaux’s “Clown”: “One day/One day, maybe soon/One day, I will tear away the anchor that holds my ship far from the seas.” For characters that wade through their mistakes, it’s poetry, in the end, if only a few verses of it, that provides the timeliest respite.
Film Comment Selects runs from February 20—March 5.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay
This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.
You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.
On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)
Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.
As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.
Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.
Will Win: Green Book
Could Win: The Favourite
Should Win: First Reformed
Watch: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton, Gets First Trailer
Joanna Hogg has been flying under the radar for some time, but that’s poised to change in a big way.
British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg, whose impeccably crafted 2013 film Exhibition we praised on these pages for its “disarming mixture of the remarkable and the banal,” has been flying under the radar for the better part of her career. But that’s poised to change in a big way with the release of her latest film, The Souvenir, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Prior to the film’s world premiere at the festival, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired its U.S. and U.K. distribution rights, respectively. Below is the official description of the film:
A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.
And below is the film’s first trailer:
A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
For appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore, one film has the upper hand here.
Given what Eric wrote about the sound editing category yesterday, it now behooves me to not beat around the bush here. Also, it’s my birthday, and there are better things for me to do today than count all the ways that Eric and I talk ourselves out of correct guesses in the two sound categories, as well as step on each other’s toes throughout the entirety of our Oscar-prediction cycle. In short, it’s very noisy. Which is how Oscar likes it when it comes to sound, though maybe not as much the case with sound mixing, where the spoils quite often go to best picture nominees that also happen to be musicals (Les Misérables) or musical-adjacent (Whiplash). Only two films fit that bill this year, and since 2019 is already making a concerted effort to top 2018 as the worst year ever, there’s no reason to believe that the scarcely fat-bottomed mixing of Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody will take this in a walk, for appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore.
Will Win: Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: A Star Is Born
Should Win: First Man