Sunday 5 April 2015

The Face of an Angel by Winterbottom and Viragh

Meredith Kercher was a young British student who was studying in Italy when she was brutally murdered. Three people were convicted of her killing, including her room mate Amanda Knox, and Knox's boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito. No one knows for sure what happened but on my — admittedly wholly amateur — reading of the case, Knox and Sollecito seemed to be clearly blameless and the victims of a publicity seeking fantasist of a prosecutor. To me their imprisonment compounded the tragedy of Kercher's death.

The story has therefore remained vividly in my mind and when I heard that there was a film based on it, directed by Michael Winterbottom, this movie shot to the top of my must-see list. Winterbottom has made some truly excellent films (not least The Killer Inside Me), often with a powerful documentary edge. He seemed the perfect man to make a riveting study of this case.

What I'd forgotten was that he's also the man who knows so little about drama that he thought he could take a tragic love triangle from a literary classic (Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy) and safely remove one of the characters. When you remove one point of a triangle, Michael, you end up with a straight line. Come to think of it, Winterbottom is a film maker who has even bungled pornography (in Nine Songs... the linear Tess adaptation was Trishna).

Winterbottom's screenwriter Paul Viragh (who wrote the Ian Dury biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll) must share some responsibility for the farrago which is The Face of an Angel. Despite being based on a non fiction book about the Kercher murder by the American journalist Barbie Nadeau, the film is a work of fiction, with the names of Kercher, Knox and Sollecito changed. And it doesn't even deal with the crime. It follows a film director as he fails to make a movie about the crime. If you think that all sounds too precious for words, then by golly you are right.
The film director — played by Daniel Brühl; a terrific actor lost here in a lousy movie — wanders around, snorts cocaine, whines about being divorced and separated from his charmless child, has an affair with an American journalist (Kate Beckinsale) and timidly circles an attractive young British student. The young British student is played with great charm and brio by famed model Cara Delevingne, who is the only one to emerge with any credit from this sorry mess.

Winterbottom and Viragh go on endlessly about the film director's lost daughter, as if this had some parallel with the central story (or lack thereof). They have also latched onto the hilarious notion that the works of Dante can be referenced as relevant to their meandering miasma of a tale.

Perhaps the worst moments of the movie — god knows there's enough to chose from — are the director's dreams which have been crowbarred into the narrative to try and add some action and suspense. There's even a bit where he's attacked by scaly monsters (presumably out of Dante's inferno) rendered in some of the worst CGI witnessed in mainstream cinema. I have seen The Face of an Angel described as a psychological thriller. Don't believe it. It's a very boring, incredibly pretentious attempt at an art film.

Just on its own merits, this has a strong claim to being one of the worst movies ever made. When you factor in the real life tragedies on which it is founded — and which it exploits — it then becomes unforgivably, reprehensibly bad. The publicity for The Face of an Angel makes shameful use of the real life murder case to drum up customers. And for the movie to conclude with a dedication to Meredith Kercher is just the final insult.
The film is so rotten it made me never want to see a movie again. But I suspect I'll get over that. Probably by tomorrow...

(Image credits: the poster is from Imp Awards; the shot of Brühl and Delevingne is from Ace Show Biz. The shot of Delevigne's face is from a blog about the crime.  The shot of her in a red and black shirt is from You & I. The book cover is from General eBooks.)

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