Motherhood is getting beat up pretty bad in movies lately. After last year’s sunny (by comparison) “The Florida Project,” with its tattooed, party mom-in-an-SRO, comes Marion Cotillard in “Angel Face,” screening at the Cannes Film Festival.
Cotillard plays bleached-blonde Marlene, the hard-drinking party girl who seems barely aware that she is mother to Elli, a young girl who gets to tag along to witness her mother’s careless debauchery. It’s not often that mothers take their daughters to the club with them, then send them home in a cab while taking off with a guy.
This is the kind of person Marlene is: the movie opens with her primping for her wedding, where she promptly gets trashed, sings a song about betrayal to her new husband and then is discovered humping a wedding guest in the kitchen. It isn’t long before tiny Elli starts taking sips, and then swigs, of alcohol, not that Marlene would ever get up off the couch to notice.
A hauntingly intense Avline Aksoy-Etaix plays Elli, who does more caretaking of her mother than the other way around. Marlene finally just abandons Elli, after yet another night of self-indulgent partying.
So desperate is Elli for some adult attention that she latches on to a random man in the neighborhood, literally demanding that he take her in. Much as Julio tries to rid himself of Elli, she keeps turning up in his mobile home, high on the cliffs of the coast. Despite himself, he creates a bond, and becomes a short-lived surrogate father.
Director Vanessa Filho has some deeply harsh things to say about motherhood in this film, and who ought to have the right to parent.
One does wonder why state services never show up, despite Elli missing many days of school.
Cotillard is highly convincing as a self-destructive mother, oblivious to her responsibilities and the emotional carnage she inflicts on her little girl. But Aksoy-Etaix meets her note for note, with a phlegmatic flatness that reads as normalized apathy.
Not until the final frames of the film do we really see how deep the pain, and how raw the anger is that has been dug into her young heart.