Mon Ange (My Angel) (2016)
When her stage magician lover disappears as part of his act – and doesn’t come back again – Louise (Elina Lowensohn) is left holding an invisible baby, whom she gives no name apart from ‘mon ange’. Isolated from everyone but his emotionally and physically fragile maman, Mon Ange grows up in an abandoned institution – practical issues like how he eats or what the family live off aren’t raised, for this is a fable – but has a single friend in Madeleine, a beautiful red-headed girl who lives in the mansion next door. She can ‘see’ him because she’s blind and perceives his presence through sound and smell. Mon Ange and Madeline have an intense relationship and Louise quietly dies – then Madeleine is taken away to have an operation which will restore her sight, and Mon Ange worries that this will break them apart since he’s never told her that she would’t be able to see him if she could.
Written by Thomas Gunzig and director Harry Cleven, Mon Ange is a delicate, simple, rather beautiful film – a world away from Memoirs of an Invisible Man or The Man Who Wasn’t There, though inevitably there are echoes of those invisible man movies in the scene where the couple finally make love and Madeleine’s flesh moves as she is caressed by invisible fingers. With a hero who is only a voice-over or an occasional outline in the rain, a great deal of the film consists of loving close-ups of the perfectly-matched actresses playing Madeleine as child (Hannah Boudreau), teenager (Maya Dory) and grown woman (Fleur Geffrier). The blind girl who recognises the beautiful soul of a ‘monster’ has been a stock film character since the silent era, but the trio of redheads infuse her with a passion that’s distinctive – and this is a case where the love object of the hero, and of the camera (with an invisible co-star there’s no competition), emerges as a film’s true heroine.
An intimate picture, this makes sparing use of the sort of effects seen since The Invisible Man (1933) – though they’re seamlessly done for what seems like a small-scale, low-budget effort – to concentrate on poetic thoughts. A deal of tension is built up about how Madeleine will react to the big reveal, strung out even further after her operation as she spends her first sighted day with Mon Ange blindfolded or with her eyes shut. We know her heart well enough to be sure of her, but crucially the invisible man doesn’t – so we worry that his reaction to her reaction will break the idyll. This might sound a little twee, but it doesn’t play that way – at its festival screening in Trieste, it won over a large audience who responded enthusiastically to its unashamed, uncyncial romantic fervour.
Cleven works mainly as an actor – he’s in most of Jaco Van Dormael’s films (and Dormael is producer here) and Amer. His previous films as a director sound interesting – a thriller (Trouble) and another fantastical romance (Why Get Married the Day the World Ends?).