Top critical review
2 people found this helpful
a bit nonsensical but ...
on 23 April 2012
I really wanted to like this film but feared I wouldn't ... fantasy is so difficult to bring off, and the result is somewhat insubstantial. Having the main character go off to fight in the Napoleonic Wars seemed to be saying that the film was serious, which sat rather incongruously with the appearance of the angel and some rather indulgent wine-tasting scenes. The whole thing is slightly thin, with much more texture and surface appeal than content. It's a bit like looking at a very well illustrated children's book, so that the introduction of further weighty subjects like infant mortality and cancer jars a bit with the lyrical, even magical cinematic style.
On the plus side, it is superbly acted. Jeremie Renier is never less than compelling in any film, and here he is on screen most of the time, and gets the ambiguity of the character's responses in a way that goes a long way towards compensating for the narrative style of the film. Gaspard Ulliel is most striking as the angel; physically it is hard to imagine anyone being more suited to embody such a being, and he has the mystery and gentleness as well as the power - part Herculean, part doe-like. Their scenes together work very well, if only they'd been longer and gone further. The other relationships were less interesting, particularly with the wife, who made almost no impression on me and even at the end looked about twenty, acting alongside her own daughter who must have been well into middle-age. She isn't helped by having so few lines, so that she is little more than a cipher, a projection of Sobran's earthy nature. The noblewoman played by Vera Farmiga is rather better, but their romance fails to take off fully. As I say, the angel was the key to making this a good film, and it should have been far more the story of a bisexual winegrower. The swirling camerawork could have been kept for those scenes, offset by a more static, documentary style in the real-life sequences, which would have given them more substance. It could have been a cross between Agnes Varda's The Gleaners And I and Wings Of Desire, perhaps, and been a truly original hybrid. As it is, much of it glides by in a highly mobile style that doesn't quite animate the characters from within. On second viewing I found it rather more seductive than the first, however, and it has to be said that the landscape and various weather conditions are ravishingly caught.