Eclectic French filmmaker Christophe Honoré creates a drama that feels powerfully autobiographical as it explores events from 25 years ago. That said, Sorry Angel (Plaire, Aimer et Courir Vite) feels bracingly present-day in its blurring of traditional descriptions of sexuality. The film had its premiere at Cannes Film Festival in 2018 and has been playing at festivals around the world ever since. It’s an honest, sensitive story with a quietly moving undercurrent of mortality to it. And it beautifully captures that deep human need to both give and receive real love.
The story is based in 1993 Paris and centres on novelist Jacques (Stranger by the Lake’s Pierre Deladonchamps), in his mid-30s and a single dad to young Louis (Tristan Farge) with considerable help from his upstairs neighbour Mathieu (Denis Podalydes). Jacques is trying to write another book, but his friends are dying of Aids all around him. He also cares for his old friend Marco (Thomas Gonzalez), whose illness is much more advanced than Jacques’. Then on a working trip to Rennes, he meets 22-year-old student Arthur (Vincent Lacoste) and feels a strong spark of mutual attraction. But Jacques is reluctant to start a new relationship at this point in his life, knowing he probably doesn’t have many years left. Still, when he returns to Paris, he can’t get Arthur out of his mind, so he keeps in touch writing letters and having long phone conversations.
This plays out in a remarkably realistic way, as Honoré completely avoids melodrama even in the story’s most emotive scenes. Everything is slightly heightened artistically, which adds to the film’s sense of nostalgia. And there’s a refreshing refusal to try to pigeonhole anyone’s sexuality. Jacques remains close to Louis’ mother (Sophie Letourneur), while Arthur has a girlfriend (Adele Wismes) who seems to be relatively understanding about Arthur’s predilection for late-night cruising. But their true love is for each other, even if Jacques understandably keeps pushing Arthur away. Meanwhile, they each seek comfort from random strangers. But they’re never far from each other’s mind.
This yearning tone is beautifully depicted by Honoré with a combination of grit and colourful creativity, so each scene plays out in ways that confront the audience with their opinions and feelings. Watching this film means continually rediscovering and reconsidering the characters and their motives. And both Lacoste and Deladonchamps adeptly reveal layers and textures of these men as the story continues. Arthur and Jacques are deeply likeable, even as they do some awkward, unlikeable things. But even when their friends criticise them, it’s clear that they are trying to do their best. The nuance in each scene is remarkable in this sense, avoiding the usual obvious storytelling beats.
This also isn’t an Aids film, although that’s in here too. At its essence, Sorry Angel (Plaire, Aimer et Courir Vite) is about two men who love who they love, and grapple with what that means in their specific lives. Honoré takes on some very big issues with real insight, but never pushes a single point, letting the events wash over the audience in ways that are involving and moving, packed with tiny details that add resonance. In other words, this is a personal, passionate film that, even when it’s heading into some rather grim territory, is a celebration of the way men come together.