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Review: The Face of an Angel

Perhaps the ultimate test of a review, aside from looking immediately to the star rating, is answering the question “is this film worth watching”?

And in the case of the Michael Winterbottom-directed film The Face of an Angel, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014, and is currently being shown at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto, the answer is unequivocally, yes, it is more than definitely worth watching.

The Face of an Angel achieved a sense of notoriety for being Winterbottom’s attempt to tell the story of Amanda Knox, or rather, on the victim of the story, Meredith Karcher, (to whom the film has been dedicated).It is actually something of a “tough watch”, mainly because of the casting choices and of the abject strangeness of the Dante-inspired dream sequence.

The choice of using a German-born English filmmaker as the main character, a sort of stand-in for Winterbottom, seems to befit the actor Daniel Brühl quite naturally, as the actor is quite memorable in the Ron Howard film Rush. His Thomas as a filmmaker clad all in black and speaking with a heavy English accent seems un- Brühl-ish, especially when he is paired with Kate Beckinsale’s American journalist Simone Ford. The actors never seem to fully inhabit the prescribed roles.

The acting standout, shockingly, is English model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne, who captures the wispy and mysterious Melanie quite excellently.

It is important to remember that this is Delevingne’s first somewhat leading role, as she is sure to saturate the screen in the months to come. Here, her innocuous naiveté plays into Winterbottom’s hands as the focus of a singular obsession with youth, beauty and charm, (and with our ability to believe a good story).

Obviously, the names and the protagonists have been changed, but this metafictional fever dream of a story is clearly inspired by the young and attractive American student that seems to have gotten away with murder in Italy, in large part because the public did not see fit to imprison a young woman because of her youth and beauty.

Thus, we receive a story like this one, which reveals itself upon layers of reflection, interpretation, and basically some detective work on the part of the viewer. Those seeking escapist summer fare are best to look elsewhere.

Even those that prefer to unpack and ruminate upon a film are best advised to hunt for the clues provided by Winterbottom along the way. Literature is a good start. Music, especially the chamber music present in the film is another place to look. But ultimately, the best source for clues may be in the title. Check the faces of the stars of the film very closely, and perhaps most importantly, remember to look to the angels, (or perhaps to look away from the angels) in order to find a source of light from above.

[star v=3]