Angels (Andělé všedního dne) – Alice Nellis, 2014

Death comes to us all, and when that last moment stretches out to eternity, all men face the same questions. Have I lived my life to the fullest? Have I done the best for my loved ones? Was I man enough when circumstances demanded it? Did I dare disturb the universe? Did I get enough blowjobs?

Andělé všedního dne by Alice Nellis is a crass, tasteless and utterly depressing film. It tries to say things about mortality and kindness, but is literally about a man who thinks his life is shit because he’s never been sucked off before.

Ever reliable Bolek Polívka plays Karel, an ageing driving instructor stuck in a loveless marriage with his neurotic, sour-faced wife Marie (Zuzana Bydžovská). They’ve been married for twenty-seven years, but he’s never experienced the pleasures of oral sex. Karel has the hots for Ester (Klára Melíšková), one of his pupils and a recently widowed doctor. It is the last day of Karel’s life, and four angels arrive on earth to oversee his final few hours.

There are other characters vaguely populating the background, including Václav Neužil as a stalker, whose life will intersect with Karel’s at the most unlikely and inconvenient moment. Andělé všedního dne is a small film overcrowded with lots of thinly written characters, but its main dramatic thrust depends on this – will Karel die with a smile on his face?

If you are really, really going to make a film about whether or not an old man gets noshed off before he dies, your writing needs to be sharp and it needs to be funny. Adapted from Michal Viewegh’s book by Nellis and the author, it’s about as funny as an attack of Mr Floppy on a hot date. In the screening I attended, one person laughed once during the whole film, so I know the humour wasn’t lost in translation.

The angels sum up the screenplay’s problems. There are four of them, and very little to distinguish them apart from their costumes. If the angels weren’t so different physically it would be almost impossible to tell one from the other.

There is a bad boy in a leather jacket, a pretty girl in a floral dress, a fat man in a grey suit, and a skinny guy in a cardinal’s frock. Only the bad boy (Vojtech Dyk) and the cardinal (Vladimír Javorský) have noticeable character traits, so the girl and the fat man make two angels too many. Especially since their main purpose is to stand around telling the audience what is going on.

The angels have more to do in the second half of the film, although it is not clear what their job is, or what their powers are. On one hand, they can manifest themselves to humans as pizza delivery guys and try to spark some romance in Karel & Marie’s marriage; on the other, they can only stand smiling benignly as another character tops himself.

I don’t know why a woman would end up directing a story like this, in which all the female characters are demeaned as either objects of lust, or dried up old boots who deserve cheating on because they don’t put out anymore. Even the pretty young angel is leeringly coerced into planting the idea of blowing Karel into Ester’s head. The sexism isn’t satirised or commented on – it is simply there, as deep-rooted as the sexism in Czech society, and it is saddening that a female director would be on board with such apathetic misogyny.

Nellis tries to enliven Andělé všedního dne with some flashy visual gimmicks. Unfortunately, we’ve seen all her tricks before in much better films about celestial intervention – the angels sudden appearance on a bridge recalls Clarence’s arrival in It’s a Wonderful Life; some nifty time-freezing effects are straight out of A Matter of Life and Death; and the camera fluttering around the city borrowed from Wings of Desire.

Other than that, the film is as flat and lifeless as its characters, and looks like a cheapo rush job – summed up by Javorsky’s cardinal outfit, which looks like he rented it from a joke shop.

Andělé všedního dne is a drab, sordid little film, its sole bright points being the performances of Polívka and Melíšková, who somehow manage to emerge from this shabby mess with their dignity intact. To sum up on the blowjob theme, Andělé všedního dne sucks dick, and goes down as one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.

 

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