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Superwoman Rising

Who is the Angel-A in your life?

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In the film Angel-A, Andre is in big trouble. Andre is a Moroccan immigrant living in Paris. He's a small-time petty crook and would-be entrepreneur whose misguided "business" efforts have plunged him in debt to characters much more unsavory than himself. His fear and anxiety are not due to paranoia. His life is in danger. He owes people money, and they're the kind of people who are just as willing to accept payment in blood as in cash. He's 28 years old, but looks 10 years older. He's dishonest and has no self-respect. It's likely Andre would be uptight even without the money problems, but his debts and the death threats that accompany them are just too much. He decides to end it all by drowning himself in a river. However, in life and death, timing is everything. He coincidently times his own demise to correspond with that of a tall blonde who has chosen the same solution for her problems. He postpones his own suicide to try to save her from the unforgiving waters. Although he considers his situation hopeless, he sees her life as full of hope. She feels the same way about him.

Angel-A is director Luc Besson's latest film. As in most of Besson's films (The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita), Angel-A has, as one main character, a confident, powerful woman of mythological stature, surrounded and challenged by lesser men. The "lesser man" in Angel-A is Andre, played with hyper-intensity by Jamel Debbouze. Angela (Rie Rasmussen) is a tall, elegant blonde who also appears to be depressed and suicidal. She chain-smokes and eats her way through the film, which gives viewers the impression that her problems may be as serious as Andre's, but she says that it doesn't matter that she smokes. She's immortal. So what can be gained by her attempting suicide? Andre discovers that Angela's immortality might be more of a curse than a blessing.

Either Angela or Andre, or both of them together, dominate nearly every scene in this black-and-white movie. The images of them together are memorable ones. Angela appears to be at least a foot taller than Andre. Andre rushes around Paris wearing a heavy overcoat, doing everything with his left hand because his right hand stays in his pocket. In contrast, Angela wears skimpy hot-weather clothing, indicating that either she or Andre have the seasons mixed up. Angela and Andre try to convince the other that he or she has a promising future, while denigrating their own potential.

Angel-A is a comforting film. It reinforces the belief that each one of us may have a guardian angel. In a dangerous and unpredictable world, even adults need that kind of reassurance. In many ways, Andre is childlike. He's out of touch with reality and has no confidence in himself and his good qualities. Angela is intent on giving Andre a new start in life. There's an especially sensitive and moving scene between Andre, Angela and a mirror that demonstrates just how much a talented director can get out of two fine actors and one simple prop. The lissome Rasmussen practically floats through the film with long strides and dramatic body movements reminiscent of Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura. However, is all feminine eloquence and supreme confidence, whereas the masculine Carrey was crude and swaggering and appeared to be trying to disguise his lack of confidence.

The streets of Paris are surprisingly empty of people in the film. It's almost as if the only two humans left are Andre and Angela. They're trying to do the right things while others are parasitic or, at best, selfish and uncaring. The dialogue in Angel-A is witty and humorous, but not excessive. Although he doesn't become a much calmer person, Andre changes as a result of Angela's influence. He becomes concerned about others, especially the beautiful woman who has chosen to care for him. She's succeeded in bringing out the good in Andre. He begins to use both arms in trying to "save" Angela from her fate, a right arm he didn't bother using early in the movie to save himself from falling from the Eiffel Tower. By learning to care for another person, he's starting to care more about himself.

Unfortunately the ending of Angel-A weakens the story. Angela and Andre's roles are reversed. Is Besson trying to tell us that everyone needs a savior? It's worth considering. In spite of a few minor miscues, Besson has made another serious and successful film.

Opens Friday, July 27, at the Flicks. Rated R.