February 28, 2001 -- The dreamlife of Angels (La Vie rêvée des anges) is the story of a couple of the working poor in Lille, France, who become friends for a time. It is a story of capitalistic and sexual exploitation, rage, rebellion, and the search for meaning in everyday things.
The interesting thing about European films is that they sometimes focus on ordinary people in a way that American films almost never do. American films are about extraordinary people, or really strange people, criminals, or others outside society's mainstream. This film focuses on two ordinary young girls. One of them, Isabelle 'Isa' Tostin (played by Élodie Bouchez, is living on the streets, selling handmade postcards. She gets a job in a sweatshop sewing garments where she meets Marie Thomas (played by Natacha Régnier) who is taking care of a house for a family injured in a car accident. Isa talks Marie into giving her a place to sleep and the two become friends.
Although Isa is living almost like a hobo, she is interested in finding a job so she can support herself. Marie is more interested in finding a man so he can support her in the style to which she'd like to become accustomed. The reason for Marie's insecurities and low self-esteem are not explained in the film, although it appears to be the result of some kind of abuse. For whatever reason, she is ashamed of her middle-class roots. Isa, the true angel of the film, becomes fascinated by the girl who lived in the house she is using. She begins to read the girl's diary and visits her in the hospital. The injured girl, Sandrine (Louise Motte), is in a coma.
Marie becomes interested in a man, Chriss (Grégoire Colin), who owns a nightclub. She dreams of love and a better job. Isa warns her that Chriss is only using her, but she won't listen. Their brutal, one-dimensional sexual relationship, revealed explicitly in two searing scenes, is very sad. Marie is an emotional train wreck just waiting to happen. She's not the first woman to make bad choices when it comes to men. That is what makes this story all the more commonplace. Marie's relationship with Charly (Patrick Mercado), a local club bouncer, is sweet, but doomed.
As Marie heads down the lonely path of emotional self-destruction, she becomes more and more distant from Isa, who tries in vain to reach out to her. There's a hint of sexuality in Isa's desire for Marie's friendship and in her desire to protect Marie from emotional harm. The story also makes a strong statement about the use of money by men to gain a sexual advantage over women within the context of the capitalistic economic system. It is a very telling point that Chriss did not earn his money, he inherited it. He operates as if it is his privilege to use women like Marie as sexual playthings.
Isa seems to float above all this madness. Although she is unable to keep Marie's friendship, she stays out of the emotional traps that Marie falls into. Isa seems to have a good set of values and a good sense of her own self-worth, independent of what others may think of her. Even though Isa is a homeless person at the beginning of the film and at the end of it, we get the feeling that she is going to land on her feet. She lives in a bewildering world, but her inner compass keeps her headed in the right direction.
Bouchez has a glow about her, an inner light. She has a great screen presence. Régnier is very good at depicting a terrible, fragile vulnerability, coupled with rage. While the male characters in the film don't have much depth, Mercado has the most sympathetic character. Director of Photography Agnès Godard does a fine job capturing the bleak city streets, sweatshops and that glowing inner light of Bouchez. While the film is interesting as a character study, the story, aside from the hard core sex scenes, is so low key and predictable it is almost in a coma. In fact, the only thing unpredictable about it, is there is no prostitution, per se, in the movie. This film rates a C+.
I saw this film on DVD. The 113 minute color film was released on August 24, 1999 in the U.S. by Columbia-Tristar. It comes in anamorphic widescreen format with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The subtitles are easy to read and come in English, Spanish and French. DVD extras include production notes. The dialogue sound is French. The sound format is Dolby 2.0 stereo. Dolby is a trademark of Dolby Laboratories. Click here for links to places to buy this movie in VHS and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.