Synopsis: Georges Deblache is a middle aged cop who falls for his partner’s wife. Didier, his partner, is only recently married, but beds women he encounters while doing his job. When George seduces his partner’s wife, he finds that she is not unwilling. In fact, the heated romance becomes a debate of whether she did the seducing. Still, her unpredictability turns him on even more and he finds himself sucked in deeper. who is past middle age and who is so despondent about his life that he refuses to have a medical check-up, even though he suspects he has cancer.
His partner is Didier Theron (Nils Tavernier), who has recently married a woman whom he has worshipful feelings for — feelings which don’t stop him from routinely bedding the many women of color he encounters while doing his job. Georges takes a keen interest in his partner’s unrealistically appreciated wife and pushes his way into her not entirely unwilling arms.
Sale comme un ange 7.75
eyelights: its gritty look at police work. its realistic interpersonal dynamics.
eyesores: the ethical flexibility of its characters. the roles assigned to each gender.
“It’s always like that with men: they look lily white on the outside, but they are disgusting on the inside.”
‘Sale comme un ange’ is the story of Georges, a rugged, aging police inspector who falls for his best friend’s young wife, Barbara. After posting his friend on a job protecting the family of another friend, knowing that he will be away for days on end, Georges decides to make a move on Barbara, blurring the lines between professional responsibility and personal needs.
It’s Catherine Breillat’s fourth feature and it’s a small departure for the controversial director: whereas she usually tends to focus her lens on female protagonists, here she made a man the focal point of her film (in fact, of all the ones I’ve seen, this is the only exception to the rule). Truth be told, as much as I like her perspective, it was welcome change of pace.
I really enjoyed that she was able to delve into a completely different world, too, choosing a police department rife with ethical impropriety instead of common everyday life. Here we follow Georges and his colleagues as they interact with various subgroups, including a number of underworld elements, making their presence felt and sometimes shaking them down.
Georges is a real bastard: a hardened veteran of the force, he is described by his colleagues as the worst misogynist of the whole force and he is clearly racist, focusing his attentions on visible minorities and taking payouts. Meanwhile, his other best friend is a drug pusher – whom he gives some latitude to, so long as he doesn’t break the law “too much”.
This friend, Manoni, has unfortunately gotten into some very serious trouble and his life is on the line. He’s crossed the wrong people and he doesn’t believe that he will get out of this situation alive, so he asks Georges to ensure that his family don’t pay for his mistake. Naturally, Georges takes it upon himself to send Didier as protection.
And when Manori disappears, Georges spends his days looking for him. Meanwhile, Didier is finding his gig extremely tedious, unable to leave Manori’s apartment and longing for some time with Barbara. Georges arranges for a conjugal visit, taking Barbara to Didier for a short while. But it’s after this visit that he decides to make his move.
‘Sale comme un ange’ takes its sweet time setting up the characters, which is a nice touch. Instead of making Georges and Barbara’s affair the central part of the picture, it almost comes as an afterthought. In fact, until at least the halfway mark, I was convinced that I might merely be watching a standard police drama, thinking that perhaps Breillat went for broke.
But she eventually does delve into male-female relationships and sexual dynamics, as she tends to do. And it was both satisfying and frustrating:
- On the one hand, I loved the way that she shot Georges and Barbara’s first real encounter because she dragged it on, offering us feverish caresses during which Barbara alternated between desire and propriety/shame, while Georges countered her every excuse as best as he could. Breillat went in very close, making the two bodies inseparable, nearly transforming us into participants. It was steamy.
- On the other hand, I was frustrated with the characters’ behaviours. They fell into easy, preconceived modes that we’ve seen all too often: Georges got lost in her as he had never done before in his life, professing his love and wanting her to leave Didier for him, whereas Barbara was a Deneuve-like ice queen who held in her heart secret motivations that would only eventually be revealed.
The thing that makes Breillat fascinating is that she usually makes her characters much more complex than this, thereby making them harder to relate to. It’s a double-edged sort because you don’t necessarily like them, but you are fully engaged by them. Here her characters are more mundane – not exactly caricatures, but offering us less to consider.
It doesn’t make of ‘Sale comme un ange’ a bad movie. In fact, on all counts it’s a superbly-crafted motion picture: the story is rock-solid and realistic (Breillat had studied police work prior to making the film), the performances are excellent, it was pieced together perfectly, and it’s entertaining. I would suspect that no one would ever argue its quality.
But it’s not as challenging as Breillat’s best pictures are and, when one watches her films, being challenged is almost an expectation. Even when her pictures are looser, not as good from a technical standpoint, they offer so much intellectual stimulation that they’re worth multiple viewings. ‘Sale comme un ange’ is less demanding, but it also has less to offer.
Sadly, this likely means that it will have less long-term watchability.
Date of viewing: September 2, 2014