Luc Besson’s new film seems at first glance like a departure from his previous productions, but it’s more a departure from seven years of producing often questionable movies, sometimes contributing to them at the writing level but letting other directors fall on their own swords. With Angel-A he finally brandishes his own filmmaking powers again, and they’re sharp as ever.

Angel-A is Rie Rasmussen’s first movie since her debut in Femme Fatale, and consequently her first speaking role. As a novice she has a few moments of amateurish acting, especially at the end of scenes when you feel Besson could have cut a bit earlier, but Rasmussen’s unstudied style endows her character with genuine spontaneity, revealing an innocence that belies her dress and attitude. In other words, a newcomer like her was perfect casting for the role.

The most obvious observation is that Angel-A is a response to Wenders’ Wings of Desire, and the commonalities are inescapable: it’s a black and white picture that exploits the character of a great European city to stage a similar story acted in the native language. But it is hardly a(n other) remake of Wenders’ film because ultimately Angel-A is an amalgamation of Besson’s own films — Nikita, Leon, The Fifth Element, The Messenger — in which an average person meets an extraordinary stranger in a noirish tale about destiny with occasional glimpses of the supernatural.

And at the same time it can also be read as a biographical fable about the making of his movies (this one no exception), during which he inevitably seems to discover a beautiful actress and, in the case of ten years ago, falls in love with and marries her, shortlived though it was. Though I dislike appeals to biography, reading Besson’s latest as the ballad of Luc and Milla not only explains a lot throughout the movie but its problematic ending as well. Everyone has wondered why Besson hasn’t directed a movie since The Messenger, released shortly after his divorce from Jovovich, and with Angel-A he answers both the personal and professional questions.

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