Paris, 1993. Jacques (Pierre Deladonchamps) is a semi-renowned writer and single father in his thirties trying to maintain his sense of romance and humor in spite of the turmoil in his life and the world. While on a work trip to Brittany, he meets Arthur (Vincent Lacoste), an aspiring filmmaker in his early twenties, who is experiencing a sexual awakening and eager to get out of his parochial life. Arthur becomes instantly smitten with the older man.
From acclaimed writer-director Christophe Honoré (Love Songs, Dans Paris) comes Sorry Angel, a mature and deeply emotional reflection on love and loss, and youth and aging. In its intergenerational snapshot of cruising, courtship and casual sex – Jacques’ forty-something neighbor Mathieu (Denis Podalydès) rounds out the triumvirate – Sorry Angel balances hope for the future with agony over the past in an unforgettable drama about finding the courage to love in the moment.
How can we sum up the story and subject matter of this film?
A first love and a last love. A start in life and an end in life, through a single love story, that of an optimistic young man, Arthur, and a jaded slightly older man, Jacques. The film aims to combine these feelings: impetus and renunciation.The love story related precipitates two things: on the one hand, Arthur’s emergence into an adult love affair and Jacques’ retreat. It is possible that without this love Jacques would have lived longer because, for him, things are hastened along by the idea that his illness, AIDS, makes him unfit for this love, that he is no longer capable of experiencing it. I believe that the real subject of the film lies there, in the contrary effects of love.
Rather than a story of impossible love, this is a film about an impossible life.
Is this story of special importance for you?
It is always a little dangerous to look for personal explanations after the fact because there are all kinds of reasons or motivations for writing a story. Let’s say that after two literary adaptations, Ovid and the Comtesse de Ségur, I wanted to get back to a form of realism with the story told in the first person: the realism of the personal account… My initial desire was really to write something completely original.
On the other hand I wanted to bring the 90s back to life. I wanted to use fiction to bring back to life the student I was at the time and revive the figure of a writer that I would have dreamed of meeting, which never happened. In an almost natural manner I started rereading Hervé Guibert, Bernard-Marie Koltès, Pier Vittorio Tondelli, Jean-Luc Lagarce… All sorts of stories evoking AIDS or confronting it. I felt driven by a powerful and beautiful desire to write, something that could also have given birth to a novel since I was not asking myself any particular questions about direction at that point. As a result, the writing was lively and rapid too: five or six weeks in all.
The characters of Jacques and Arthur slowly converged as well: they are more or less the same character at two points in his life. For the younger one, the other is a model, something to aim for. In Jacques’ eyes, Arthur is an evocation of his own youth, almost a memory.
The film also seems to be driven by a desire for reparation.
There is probably something like that… and also a desire for consolation. I belong to a general of artists and gay people for whom addressing the issue of AIDS is particularly tricky and complicated. It was necessary for the victims of AIDS to speak before people like me, who were witnesses but not victims, could speak. So there was a gap, a necessary moment before I was ready to speak out.
Even today, I still feel inconsolable over the deaths of people I knew, along with those whom I never met but whom I would have dreamed of meeting, and who still continue to inspire me. They fuelled within me the desire for cinema and literature, yet I have never been able to envisage, if not the passing on of the torch, at least an encounter with them. Today, I continue to feel that as something lacking in my life.
This film is not a way for me to fill that void, for that would be a waste of time, but to revive this absence through fiction and offer myself the possibility of a meeting that did not take place.
The fact that these artists are no longer around is very painful for me. It’s cruel that there are no new books by Guibert,no more movies by Demy, no new film criticism by Daney.
The reconstruction is also built around a collection of quotes and cultural references, a very rich backdrop with a lot of music, songs, movies, books, posters.
Reconstituting the 90s means working on an age that is not yet over and it is much more complicated than recreating the costumes of the 18th century, say. The general idea of the production design was to recreate a time without reconstituting it. In this context, cultural references are very useful.
The quotes, the movies evoked in Sorry Angel, and even the piles of books that we see in rooms are taken directly from my youth.I believe very much that we are formed and influenced, in our way of feeling and thinking, by the books read, the music and songs heard, by the films that mattered in our lives.
Via the sporadic recognition of the viewer, the film thus has a Proustian effect on the memory and the madeleines that are in each of us.
What’s more, rather than bothering to reconstruct the sets in detail by summoning all the cars and necessary details, I was able to ascertain that a book, a poster or some music can create more interesting things on a directing level… For me, the 90s are a time that is not yet over. I find it hard to accept that 20 or 25 years have passed and I am still unable to attune the vibrant nature of my impressions of the period to this distance that seems outrageous to me. I often wonder why these evenings of my youth remain more vibrant within me now than anything I experienced subsequently. This is also what the film tries to capture and relate.
The film is strongly sexualized and carnal, but not excessively sexual. How did you approach these scenes of physical love during shooting?
When I was shooting My Mother, I naively believed that I would learn what kind of director I was according to how I could shoot sex scenes. And, on My Mother, there was one every day! It was such an ordeal for me, so tense and so consuming, that it took me a long while to recover from that situation because, deep down, it embarrassed me a great deal. All my subsequent films, The Beautiful Person, Love Songs and Dans Paris are very chaste, even prudish films.
The desire slowly returned, especially after Les Metamorphoses during which I freed myself of this anxiety.
For Sorry Angel, Pierre Deladonchamps, who plays the character of Jacques, was a very reliable ally. He has a particularly free approach to nudity for a male actor. Vincent was a little anxious, of course, as he had never really been put in this kind of situation where he is strongly identified as an object of desire. Nowadays, such moments worry me less, I do very few takes of those scenes, reducing the crew to a minimum, and I play out the scene myself ahead of time to explain it to the actors. Overall, the film is quite sweet about sexuality, it is carnal and intimate but without any bravura.
How did the two main actors get a hold on their characters?
Vincent Lacoste is very young, but not a novice. He completely escapes French naturalism. He has a very special grace in how he brings Arthur and the dialogue to life. When I met him, I discovered someone who was very sensitive, a true film buff, with a deeply literary nature. No cliché can define him.
Pierre, in the role of Jacques, truly impressed me. He has a flexibility, an incredible plasticity, something close to abandonment and that we usually find in actresses, rarely in men. This absolute confidence in the film is very precious for a director, and very moving.
I am also glad that the film is an opportunity to discover certain actors on the big screen for the first time. I am thinking of Adèle Wismes, who has everything required to quickly become indispensable in French cinema, Luca Malinowski with whom the camera instantly fell in love, or Thomas Gonzales who works a lot in theater and who was wary of the cinema. I think we have those three a rather successful baptism.
Finally, I had the chance to work with Denis Podalydès whom I had dreamed of directing for a long time. His power and intelligence bring a delight in acting to the scene. He has a talent for rescuing fiction by offering it an unpredictable tone and music.
After almost twenty years working in your two favorite fields, would you say that you are more a writer or a filmmaker?
I would say that I am looking for a kind of imbalance rather than a balance between those activities. I like that impurity. Like all French filmmakers, I think, I am not exactly reassured about the immediate future of production in this country. The style of cinema that I belong to is steadily losing value, it seems, in the eyes of the financiers and perhaps even audiences. The theatre, opera productions and writing provide me with a more reassuring horizon.
My training is that of a filmmaker and my deep-seated identity is probably closer to film. Even my relationship to literature remains quite clearly linked to cinema. I’m like a filmmaker looking for other ways to make movies.
The worry of not being able to make other films one day concerns all filmmakers, but it is not general, it is always intimate and personal: why do I make another film? Why is each film never totally satisfying? Why can no one film fulfill a filmmaker’s desire to be a filmmaker?
There is one question that I often ask myself: will there be a moment when I will be satisfied with the cinema, with the film shot, or am I simply increasing my dissatisfaction from one film to another, hoping that the next will succeed in attaining something?