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THE FACE OF AN ANGEL

March 25, 2015

Film + EntertainmentReview | by Francesco Cerniglia


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When British student Meredith Kercher was found murdered in her flat in Italy, back in 2007, it didn’t take long for local journalists to set aside ethics and sobriety in order to quickly build the usual, shameless media hype. Feeding the audience’s growing thirst for morbid details, tabloids and TV programmes jumped on the story head first; they speculated, distorted and exaggerated every piece of news, selling what was left of their souls to the gods of TV ratings. The crime, investigation, first suspects and subsequent trial flooded the newscasts, becoming an omnipresent and over-analysed topic – the Italian equivalent of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance in the UK.

It didn’t take long before the media’s approach to the case became a talking point as relevant as the crime itself. Not even when American student Amanda Knox was found guilty of the killing (with her accomplice, then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito) did the attention diminish, as the Italian judicial system allows different chances of appeal; as of today, the trial is still ongoing, and no one has been definitively convicted (Knox was eventually acquitted in 2011 and allowed to fly back to the U.S., but was found guilty again in 2014).

Almost ten years later, British director Michael Winterbottom (9 Songs, The Road to Guantanamo) reexamines Kercher’s killing in hindsight in his new, dark thriller The Face Of An Angel. His vehicle for the event reconstruction is Thomas (Daniel Brühl), a London-based film director with an erratic career, whose upcoming project focuses on the case. Brühl is not new to a film based on news stories: just over one year ago, he starred along Benedict Cumberbatch in The Fifth Estate.

Much unlike the poorly received flick about Julian Assange, The Face Of An Angel has some actual connections with the real events (although names and locations have been changed). But more than this, it tries until the very last shot to reach beyond the formulaic j’accuse against the media circus; in a frantic quest for originality, Winterbottom uses his personality and skills to take the viewer on a journey inside the aberrations of the human mind.

Thomas’s journey is riddled with nightmarish atmospheres and inexplicable visions: the more time he spends in Italy, the more he loses his track. His research on the case soon blends with his personal life issues, fears and insecurities, in a whirlwind of madness and self-destruction.

Three main characters help him with his project: Kate Beckinsale as Simone, a journalist who followed the case from the very beginning; Valerio Mastandrea (one of Italy’s finest actors) as Edoardo, a bizarre local who seems too interested in the case not to have a hidden agenda; and Cara Delevingne (who filmed this before her Hollywood explosion) as Melanie, another English student who becomes Thomas’s buddy in the investigation.

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Much like Thomas’s inner struggle, The Face Of An Angel loses its thread more and more. As the the plot moves forward, the Kercher case fades to the background, giving space to a direct critique of the journalists’ reckless attitude towards crime news. The story takes a horrorish twist when Winterbottom introduces Mastandrea’s character, and the focus shifts further away.

Halfway into the film, it becomes strikingly clear that the director has bitten off more that he can chew; the audience’s perplexity and dissatisfaction mirror the confusion in Thomas’s head. Maybe it’s Winterbottom’s precise choice to make us reflect on the bigger picture and forget the whodunnit. The result, however, is hit-and-miss: The Face Of An Angel is a would-be poignant drama, burdened by odd, idiosyncratic characters, and too feeble to fully buy into.

The Face Of An Angel is released in UK cinemas on March 27th

Davide Prevarin