You'll wonder at first what The Dreamlife of Angels has to do with the everyday lives and loves of two working-class girls who become unlikely buddies in the gray, cold city of Lille. It's worth waiting to find out. Isa's... more » all big-eyed gamine (Élodie Bouchez), her dark hair short-cropped, a generous mouth given to smiles--she incandesces from homely to arresting radiance. Lacking roots, money, even a permanent roof, this open-hearted twentysomething embraces life as a parade of possibilities, demonstrating a rare gift for making authentic creature contact. In contrast, blonde, slender Marie (Natacha Régnier) suggests a fallen angel, her delicate features frozen into a permanent rictus of suspicious contempt. Class-conscious, this material girl hungers for upscale salvation. Mischievous peasant and would-be princess stalk good-looking guys in the mall; smoke and share confidences in bed; tease a couple of hefty club bouncers, one of whom comes to care, with surprising tenderness, for indifferent Marie. But all the energy and zest flow from Isa (auditioning for club work, her Madonna imitation is flat-out infectious, while Marie slouches through a listless "Lauren Bacall"). When Marie goes literally mad for a promiscuous club owner (Grégoire Colin)--his wealth and beauty the dream she's been living for--their lovemaking's like warfare; her prideful resistance to his power over her spirit and body is what first--and briefly--turns him on. Bouchez and Régnier rightfully shared Best Actress honors at Cannes: their characters--as well as the comatose girl Isa helps to call back to life--are endearingly earthbound angels, sustained or betrayed by their respective aspirations. First-time director Erick Zonca makes us feel palpably the small, warming pleasures of human existence, the pure, cold pain of a damaged soul exiled from her "heaven." Woven seamlessly into Dreamlife's plaincloth design is a persistent faith in miracles. --Kathleen Murphy« less
"Two French girls who are "not the chosen ones" (to recall Cyndi Laper) befriend one another after meeting at a sweat shop where they operate sewing machines. One of them, Marie (Natacha Regnier) is apartment-sitting for a mother and her daughter who are in the hospital, victims of an accident. The other, Isabelle (Elodie Bouchez) has been living day to day with her backpack on her back, sometimes selling handmade cards on street corners. Almost immediately there is an affinity, and they find joy and adventure in one another's company.Part of the power of Erick Zonca's forceful and precise direction is to make us not only identify with his two heroines, but to force us see the world from their point of view. They are tossed about by strong emotions, powerfully projected by both actresses. Their lives and happiness are at the whim of forces beyond their control, the most powerful of which are their own feelings.When I was a little boy and went to the movies I would see three films, bang, bang, bang, one after the other, and when I came out, five or six hours later, I was transformed. I had grown, and I could see the world in a different way. Of course I was a little boy and every little bit of experience was amazing and added to my knowledge of the world. Now, such transformations, like moments of Zen enlightenment, are rare and precious. The Dream Life of Angels is one of those rare and precious films that has the kind of power to make us see the world afresh as though for the very first time.Bouchez and Regnier shared the Best Actress award at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival for their work in this movie. Indeed it is hard to choose between them. Both are wonderful. Bouchez's character, Isabelle, has a gentle, fun-loving, child-like nature, tomboyish and sentimental. Marie is cynical, uptight and wired. Her emotions swing wildly from deep pessimism to a tenuous hope for something better in this life. When she is seduced, rather forcefully, by the arrogant and predatory Chris (Gregoire Colin) who owns nightclubs and is accustomed to having his way with women, she is stunned to find that she wants him, needs him, loves him. But she knows (and is warned by Isabelle) that he is just using her and will dump her. She hates herself for loving him and therefore lashes out at Isabelle who is a witness to her humiliation.As a counterpoint to the raw animal love that Marie finds in Chris, there is the tender, dreamlike love that Isabelle finds for the daughter of the woman who owns the apartment. The mother dies from her injuries, but the daughter, Sandrine, lives on in a coma. Isabelle finds Sandrine's diary and reads it, and is touched by the sentiments expressed by the girl, and falls in love with her. A nurse tells Isabelle: "You can talk to her. She's sleeping, but she can hear you." Whether she can or not, we don't know, but to show her love Isabelle visits the comatose girl in the hospital and reads from her diary to her.In a sense we feel that the dream life of angels is the dream of Sandrine, who is dreaming the life of the young women who are living in her apartment. She is an angel and they are her dream, a troubled dream of raw emotion contrasted with her state of quiet somnolence.The Dream Life of Angels is beautifully shot in tableaux of pastel interiors in which the characters are sometimes seen at offset as in portraits. In one scene we see one of the girls in the apartment while in the right upper corner is a window through which we see in clear focus a car pass in front of a picturesque building, so that the scene is seen in layers, so that we experience the inner life and the outside world at once. In another scene, Isabelle is reading Sandrine's diary, which we see over her shoulder. Just as she reads the words that excite her passion for the girl, there is just the slightest quickening of tempo as Isabelle flips the page to see what Sandrine writes next, and in that small gesture, we feel the emotions of the girls, the one who wrote the words and the one who reads them.As a foil to the smooth, but bestial Chris, we are given Charlie (Patrick Mercado), fat motorcycle dude who is gentle and wise. This enlightened juxtaposition of character is part of director Erick Zonca's technique. We see it also in the contrasting characters of Marie and Isabelle.Obviously this is a work of art, but it is also a triumph of film making in a directorial sense. Zonca's careful attention to detail and his total concentration throughout turn something that might have been merely original into a masterful work of art."
Damn near perfect in my book
Booty Brown | Humdrum, Ca | 06/09/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a movie about people. In particular, two young French girls who meet at a seamstress job in the drab, comatose city of Lille. They're both bruised by life and have bigger dreams than working day to day in sweatshops and restaurants. They quickly become close friends, meet two burly but sweet-natured bouncers at a concert--Charlie and Fredo, and occupy a flat together that belongs to a mother and daughter who have been in a car accident and lie unconscious in the hospital. Marie (Natacha Regnier) ends up sleeping with Charlie. "I didn't expect to end up with a fat guy," she says. "A fat guy, I don't think of myself as fat. It's just a question of vocabulary."Then she ends up in bed with a rich, bratty bar-owner that uses her for sex. I think he finds her a little daffy and it turns him on. But that's okay because the security and stable life he represents turns her on so the relationship is equally empty on both sides. Meanwhile, Isa (Elodie Bochez) spends her days at the hospital by the bedside of the dying girl--her mother, we learn, has already passed away and the flat that the girls are house-sitting is going to be sold. Tempers flare and soon the friendship has more or less atrophied, they've grown apart for all these reasons and more.Elodie and Natacha both give raw, vulnerable performances. There is a whole lot to be written on their relationship alone. I like the movie for its truthfullness--it shows these girls as happy, sad worn-out angels, wandering the streets either weary or glowing, depending on the day.It's a film less about plot and more about its characters. Its meaning is left open for the viewer to interpret.The last shot is a tracking shot that moves along a row of young to middle-age women, all dressed identically in white lab coats, all doing the exact same miniscule task. Observe their eyes. It becomes obvious that their minds are elsewhere, life has left its bootprints on their souls. It never struggles or pushes its point, it simply moves along as life does."
Life and its lessons
Alejandra Vernon | Long Beach, California | 06/28/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film about the lives of two women and their friendship is poignant and riveting. The acting, by Elodie Bouchez and Natacha Regnier is extraordinary and at times one feels these are not characters but real people. This winner of many awards is filmed beautifully with patches of brilliant color and is a stunning debut by writer/director Erick Zonca. This is not only about friendship but about self-destruction vs. the will to survive. Isa (Bouchez) has such a gentle but strong soul, and Marie (Regnier), is the violent but weak one. You won't forget this moving story of their lives."
We Can Dream, Can't We?
MICHAEL ACUNA | Southern California United States | 07/30/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Erick Zonca's "The Dreamlife of Angels" is a demanding, uncompromising work of art. Isa (Elodie Bouchez) and Marie (Natacha Regnier) meet at work and quickly become soul mates. They are both basically street people living meager existencies but not on the street per se because Marie has lucked into a house sitting situation in a nicer section of Lille, France. Isa and Marie share a devil-may-care attitude but what slowly becomes apparent is that Isa and Marie are actually opposites: one a feisty survivor, the other a misanthropic loser. Like with all great films it is in the telling, the laying out of the story ,the details and the pacing that differentiate it from merely a good film. A great director also makes the right choices more often than he doesn't: actors, setting, clothing,props, etc. Elodie Bouchez and Natacha Regnier are masterful in their roles and Erick Zonka's script and direction are first rate."
Dreamlife with so much reality
T. J Mitchell | Chicago, IL United States | 07/31/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Trying not to bandy about the word "groundbreaking," I have to admit this is the first word that comes to mind when describing this exciting, touching, and unnerving film that has no specific genre. Sure, it's a drama about how the transient, though tenuous bonds of two hapless girlfriends can be torn apart by a sly, self-serving cad. Sure, it is indeed a foreign film in that the characters do speak French and that we can't expect to walk away from the credits feeling cleansed as ordained by most Hollywood feel-good output. But there really is no precedent for Zonca's direction which has elements of the cinema verity or documentary style while at the same time, captures the flawless performances of Elodie Boucher and Natacha Regnier who are both so natural that it seems they have no clue they're on camera. The plot is a love triangle with a twist. Defiant and bitter squatter girl takes in affable and trusting drifter girl and they both unite based on their otherness in the streets of Lille, France. This initial premise is perhaps one that would dissuade the average male viewer used to the shoot-'em-up Clint Eastwood fare, but the plot diverges when Regnier's character, Marie, hooks up with a devilish and unsympathetic club owner played by Gregoire Colin. Marie, who is still seething from a thousand violations of her dignity, feels she can finally win respect and love from this upwardly mobile, though terribly aloof, womanizer. The rift occurs, not because Boucher's character (Isa) falls for the same man, but because she despises him and what he has done to their friendship. Isa would like nothing better than to live a simple, hand to mouth existence with her new friend, doing odd jobs, and paying visits to their apartment owner's daughter in the hospital. It turns out Marie doesn't give a damn that the people who own the apartment where she is squatting have been in a car accident, the mother killed and the daughter comatose. Isa is disappointed to find that Marie not only doesn't give a damn about the girl, but only gets more distant and cold as the man she obsessively loves drifts away. In short, Regnier's performance is as chilling as Bouchez' is tender and heartrending. They are both so genuine in their portrayal of the tragedy of soured friendship that I can't recall it having been done that way before - at least not without the usual, predictable nonsense. It is entirely obvious why they both shared the Best Actress Award at Cannes and I can't wait for Zonka's next. If you believe truth and beauty have a place on your shelf, then buy it."