It isn’t difficult to work out from the film’s title that Angel & Tony (needlessly Anglicised from the original Angèle et Tony) is a film about two people and, presumably, the relationship they have together. That’s certainly a topic that is common in French cinema, and it’s one where French cinema traditionally excels, particularly the area of difficult relationships where the legacy of Maurice Pialat still reigns as the model to aspire towards. The first feature film from director Alix Delaporte works naturalistically within such parameters, but, anchored by two terrific performances from Clotilde Hesme and Grégory Gadebois, there is clearly a great deal of personal involvement that goes into creating two complex and fully-formed characters who seem to have very little in common.
Angèle (Clotilde Hesmé) comes from a tough background, has served time in prison for a serious offence, and now released, finds herself estranged from her young son, Yohan, who has been living with his grandparents, and she is struggling to readapt back into society. Actually, struggling suggests that she is making an effort, and Angèle isn’t really trying. She doesn’t seem willing to take on the responsibility of Yohan again, or perhaps doesn’t feel she is entitled to have him back, and her behaviour is consequently rather self-destructive. She’s been on plenty of few blind dates before the one where she meets Tony (Grégory Gadebois), but they are just an opportunity to score a quick shag and nothing more.
It doesn’t look like Angèle really the right kind of woman for Tony, a fisherman who lives with his mother in a small Normandy costal village. He works hard, is carrying the weight of his missing father lost on a fishing expedition, and would like to settle down into a stable marriage, but he doesn’t really have a lot of time for dating. It doesn’t take too long to establish that they are both looking for different things out of a relationship, but nevertheless, Angèle does at least find room and board with Tony and his mother, and a job at the fish market.
That’s not really an auspicious beginning, or indeed anything like a traditional cinematic approach, towards a romantic encounter. Alix Delaporte however doesn’t need any kind of tricks or contrivances to bring them to a closer understanding of each other, keeping the film utterly naturalistic, with a strong sense of location and environment, to say nothing of a deep understanding of her characters and their impulses. The same goes for the principal actors. Clotilde Hesme, in her first leading role following some notable supporting roles in The Regular Lovers, Les Chansons d’Amour and The Grocer’s Son, proves she has the capability to hold down and carry through on a lead performance. Grégory Gadebois, better known as a stage actor, gives less of an obvious performance, but is no less impressive, internalising his emotions but giving them full expression in brief tense encounters.
I say that the director shoots the film naturalistically, and she does, but there are little moments that have greater significance, and the director handles them with a great deal of subtlety of expression. Angèle (like Hesme herself), has to work hard to get from where she was to where she wants to be with her son, and the expression of that effort can be found in a simple scene of her riding a bike. It’s a stolen bike, so not the best of starts, but she is intent, despite a little bit of wobbliness, to overcome her difficulties and get there under her own steam. Angel and Tony likewise looks for no easy shortcuts, but gets to where it wants to be through its own integrity and efforts.