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Amelia and the Angel

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 21, 2015

This looks right off like a New Wave film.  Or, since it was made in 1957, proto-New Wave.  Maybe, like new-realism, this is a multi-available, multi-viable response to reduced circumstances.  The Italians, for the most part, keyed on the world beyond the films.  New Waves, in contrast, point to the artist, to the sensibility, or at least/equally, to the medium itself.  If this is less politically engaged, more in danger of self-absorption, then it’s also an appropriate take for youth, or for the humbly victorious to take.  (No wonder the New Wavers [like the Italians!] were drawn to kid subjects.)  It’s the aesthetic stage all over, but in this case, though it’s not really ethical or religious (Kierkegaard again, obviously), it is quite alright.

Not religious?  Remarkably, this little film actually traces a trajectory from self to some kind of apotheosis.  First, you can see it in the really lovely look of the film.  It’s kind of self-conscious, but it works: the poetry of light and motion, which the seer finds any time, and every where.  After a really pretty dance sequence, our young protagonist—fresh-faced, child-like, and a sinner—transgresses.  She’s in the wrong, she knows it, and she goes through some considerable tribulation to set it right.

The brother’s adventure with the wings is exhilaratingly shot.  The location work is really superb.  Look at that tracking shot in the market.  “She wanted wings, not cabbages.”  Was I wrong about that poetry of light and motion?  As with the lady at the stall, I thought it was nice, and the film is dismissive.  Oh well.  They’re single minded, anyway.  “No other wings this side of heaven.”

The dog and Mike material is very nicely shot.  She tries this and that, here and there.  It’s kind of expressionist, without the technology or despair.  Where can I find my answer?  There’s a very nice, Virgil Thompson-like musical interlude with that accordion.  The tracking shot in the park!  As with expressionism, our heroine has a vision.  She follows the pretty lady, loses her, film-wittily finds her again.  There’s a feather!  Cue classical music: the rest of the film is really quite lovely, quite remarkable.  The (needle-dropped) score contributes greatly.  There’s some ambiguity about where she is now.  A church?  That apparition—a theatre?  It appears that they decide on an artist’s studio, but that wing’d angel so plays the part, and why is the painter dressed like a Franciscan?  (A penitent?  Holder of the sacraments?)  All those things are probably true, or it doesn’t matter.  Priest, theatre-maker, artist: all seek the sacred, and may be vouchsafed visions.

Miraculously, they have what she needs.  That Jacob’s ladder/ascending shot is really remarkable.  We should get this out of the way—this narration is pretty twee.  For the rest, pretty remarkable.  The main character’s endowment is heralded by an explosion of music, movement, rapturous expression.  Wow!  The second last shot is a reverse or mirror of Truffaut’s conclusion to 400 Blows.  But here there’s no melancholy.  Rather, grace, forgiveness, redemption, joy.  Those were some mighty interesting documentaries that the director went on to do.   Then all those notorious films.  Is this not the apex?