VIFF Review: The Face of an Angel

A few years ago, a young British woman was murdered in Sienna, Italy. The case gained worldwide attention as the girls’ American roommate and friend were accused, tried, and convicted of the crime and then later acquitted on appeal.

The Face of an Angel is a fictionalization of this case. Sort of. Rather than going for the true crime angle, director Michael Winterbottom and writer Paul Viragh instead tell the story of a washed-up film director in Sienna trying to find a story among the city, the massive media presence, and local characters during the appeal trial.

Yes, we’re talking about a director making a film about a director trying to make a film about a real-life story. And also using _Dante’s Inferno_ as a frame for the story. Yeah. It’s a bit weird. It’s not what I’d call bad, but it’s definitely weird.

2014 Vancouver International Film Festival

I like what this film is shooting for. Daniel Bruhl’s Thomas spends the movie exploring the media circus surrounding the murder case and trying to figure out how to tell a truthful story when the truth is so horribly distorted. The film’s three acts align with the three acts of Dante’s Inferno; first, in hell, Thomas is guided through the ridiculousness of the media coverage and everyone spinning the story for their gain.

Next, in Purgatory, he becomes lost and stalled, trying to find meaning in the story and meeting a young student who helps him connect with the city and decide how to break the story. He does a shit load of cocaine and is plagued by visions and dreams, most of which end in his violent death.

Lastly, in heaven, he decides to make a film about love rather than death and attempts to give the victim of the crime some small portion of the attention he believes she deserves.

Yeah, it’s a bit weird. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not bad. I’m not entirely convinced that it’s good either, though. Daniel Bruhl is good, especially in the sections of the film where his demons torture him, and Cara Delevigne is pretty much spot-on as the young student who guides him through the city. It’s hard to say if she’s a good actress because she’s pretty much spot-on casting for this role, but she’s one to watch regardless.

There are plenty of things that make this movie worth seeing. The press corps in Sienna is an amazing group of characters, the cinematography is fantastic, and there are some excellent central performances. I’m not sure I am entirely on board with the movie telling the story of a director trying to adapt a story concept, but it’s interesting, and you probably haven’t seen anything quite like it lately.

The film doesn’t quite reach its lofty goals, though. For all the “I need to tell a story about love, and we need to remember the victim” talk, the film spends 99% of its time focused on Thomas and his demons as he figures that out rather than focusing on love or remembering the victim.