Sale comme un ange (Dirty Like an Angel) (1991)

Georges Deblache is a middle aged cop who falls for his partner’s wife. Didier, his partner, is only recently married, but beds women he encounters while doing his job. When Georges seduces his partner’s wife, he finds that she is not unwilling. In fact, the heated romance becomes a debate of whether she did the seducing. Still, her unpredictability turns him on even more and he finds himself sucked in deeper. Georges is past middle age and is so despondent about his life that he refuses to have a medical check up, even htough he suspects he has cancer.

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Sale comme un ange is another dark portrayal of human sexuality from Catherine Breillat, her fourth in a series of provocative and unequivocally personal films.  What is most striking about this film is its sense of realism and the totally unromantic way in which a romantic liaison is portrayed.  By showing a consensual love affair between a young woman and a much older man in a sordid, almost animalistic way, Breillat risks offending the sensibilities of her public, but her boldness works – the end result stands as one of her most haunting and poetic films.

Claude Brasseur’s portrayal of an ennui-burdened middle-aged policeman is as poignant as it is grotesque, whilst his co-star Lio conveys the conflicting emotions of a willing adulteress with great depth and sensitivity.  This is not an easy film to watch – the austere realist style and limp policier backstory drains the film of surface emotion, making it a hard film to engage with.  Yet it is the unusual, convention-breaking style of the film which ultimately makes it so appealing, which allows us to be drawn into the brittle lives of its protagonists and to appreciate their torn inner feelings.  This is not a film about surface emotions, but about something much deeper, much more unsettling.  It’s about an eternal longing that can neither be controlled nor rationalised – a familiar tale, but told in a daringly raw fashion.

This may be one of Briellat’s most obscure films. It only had about 60 votes on imdb. With a dearth of information about it, it kind of threw me for a loop. For one thing, it doesn’t have a female protagonist. I believe this is the only of her films where that is the case. Instead we focus on a near-retirement detective as he goes around the underbelly of Paris (I think) using his position to his benefit. He also engages in an affair with his partner/friend’s new wife. This rather gave me pause as you see him at dinner with them and there is some mild flirting and then a couple scenes later he is bedding her and then it just cuts to another scene without anything said. It’s just really baffling and takes all the emotional relevance out of the scene.

Indeed, I could say about many of the scenes here that they are too abrupt. Everything kind of flies by without enough time to establish anything as important. Even though she isn’t the main character, the main conflict seems to be within the female character here, torn between whatever desire she feels for the man she’s having an affair with and guilt over cheating on her husband, no matter how much he is cheating on her at the same time.

As a disclosure, the subtitles on this were very poor starting about a third of the way in where they were partial, showing up late and only remaining for a split second. I actually switched it over to the Spanish subtitles that were encoded in an attempt to at least understand some of the dialogue, though my Spanish is somewhat limited. Either way, this made most of the second half of the film a complete wash in terms of finer details so this review comes with a few grains of salt.

The film had not done a lot to captivate me in its storytelling or characters.