By David-Elijah Nahmod
At 132 minutes, Christophe Honore’s film Sorry Angel is a bit long. The slow-moving drama, while exceptionally well-acted and beautifully filmed, would play a lot better if it were a bit shorter — some of the scenes ramble on.
Set in 1993, Sorry Angel is quite effective at capturing a pivotal moment in gay history: the peak years of the AIDS crisis, that horrible time from the early 1980s until the mid-’90s when an HIV diagnosis meant certain death.
As the story begins, 39-year-old Jacques (Pierre Deladonchamps) is slowly coming to terms with his declining health and his possible impending death. He lives in Paris, where he has enjoyed some success as an author. He’s close friends with Matthieu (Denis Podalydes), a newspaper. editor and a very patient man who puts up with Jacques’ many self-indulgent episodes.
When Jacques travels to Brittany for work, he meets 22-year-old Arthur (Vincent Lacoste), an aspiring filmmaker and a camp counselor. The two are instantly drawn to each other, but Jacques is hesitant to enter into a relationship in part due to his AIDS diagnosis. Still, the two do sleep together a few times. After Jacques returns to Paris, the pair remains in contact.
Arthur is a complicated character. He seems to have a girlfriend but is exploring his homosexuality, sleeping with a hitchhiker that he picks up. Jacques, meanwhile, is dealing with the AIDS death of his ex-lover Marco, and he’s also facing the realities of his own worsening health. Arthur is unfazed by Jacques’ AIDS diagnosis and announces that he’s moving to Paris to be with Jacques.
But Arthur is unaware of the fact that Jacques has come to a difficult decision. Because of his escalating AIDS symptoms, Jacques has decided to take his own life.
The film effectively captures what so many gay men of that era went through. Deladonchamps gives a good performance as Jacques, a man who captures viewers’ sympathies even as he gives in to his every self-indulgent whim. He often takes advantage of Mattieu’s good nature, and he’s also an inattentive father to his young son, who lives with him part-time. These characteristics detract from his likability. But Jacques is not without heart — he’s deeply affected by the death of Marco, though he lets no one see this. Deladonchamps, a highly skilled actor, beautifully displays the many layers of this complex role and the terror that so many gay men of that era faced.
Lacoste is especially good as young Arthur, for whom being gay is a newly discovered realization. Arthur’s joy when he first meets Jacques is giddy and infectious — many viewers will see Arthur and recall their own youths and the excitement of exploring their sexual and romantic desires for the first time.
Sorry Angel has interesting characters and tells a good story, but it’s just too long. At about 100 minutes into the film, some viewers might start to squirm a bit and wish it would end, but it continues on for another 30+ minutes. More’s the pity. So many of today’s younger gay men have no idea about what happened to the generation that preceded them during the AIDS crisis. Films like Sorry Angel are a reminder of those years — these are stories that need to be told. But films such as these need to be more accessible to a wider audience. This overly long, slow-moving film will just preach to the converted.
The movie is in French, with clear, easy to read subtitles.