MARK OF AN ANGEL
Cinematic narrative is sometimes described as about the disturbance and resolution of equilibrium. //Mark of an Angel// follows in a noble tradition of French cinema which relishes the fact that there is no more precariously balanced equilibria than that more equal than others – the cosseted world of the French middle class.
Elsa is thirty-something, the mother of a young son, and recently separated from her husband. There is, it is hinted, something dark in Elsa’s past which has led to the failure of her marriage and the concern and caution with which she is treated by her family.
When Elsa starts taking an unnaturally close interest in Lola, a little girl at her son’s school, we are left wondering just how dark her previous transgressions were, and where her seemingly obsessive behaviour will lead.
Writer/Director Safy Nebbou skilfully builds the ambiguity about Elsa’s motivations. While her behaviour seems disconcerting, her manner cold and inscrutable, she also remains plausibily innocent of evil intention.
This ambiguity is further heightened by a knowing navigation of the difficult terrain of intra-gender female politics without recourse to simple or obvious stereotype. Lola’s mother, Claire (Sandrine Bonnaire) has all the trappings of a slightly bo-ho domestic ideal. She is understatedly attractive and blessed with a happy family, a beautiful house, and a wealthy, loving husband.
Nebbou has the sense to withdraw and allow the audience’s personal and political sympathy to be irrationally drawn to Elsa’s more mundane existence. Elsa may be dangerously deranged, the film subtly insinuates, but at least she’s not a self-satisfied bitch.
Herein lies the disturbed equilibrium beloved of French film - the balanced world of bourgeoise domesticity pitched against an unstable reality where calm always foretells a storm and nothing is as fragile as contentment. //Mark of an Angel// is formulaic in form and function but it’s a nuanced and intriguing addition to the metier.