Sorry Angel is the latest film by French auteur filmmaker Christophe Honoré (Dans Paris, Love Songs). The film headlined at Melbourne’s International Film Festival having premiered at Cannes, inevitably making its way around the globe to various other festivals this year. The film is a love story set in France during 1993, as the visibility of HIV/AIDs sufferers grew. Much of the critical conjecture of this film equate last year’s BPM (also screened at MIFF) to Sorry Angel, and although the films are both set during the same time period in Paris, the tone and perspectives could not be more varied.
The central romance between dual-protagonists Jacques and Arthur begins during a screening of Jane Campion’s The Piano. The camera is positioned between the two men, shooting them from behind as their experiences unite them, a shot which is repeated throughout the film. Arthur is a 22-year-old from the country, still exploring his sexuality as he falls for women and sleeps with men. Jacques, on the other hand, is into his forties, a well-known but struggling writer and father to an eleven-year-old boy named Lou Lou. There are certain details which Jacques keeps private from Arthur as the couple’s relationship unfolds, playing into one of the film’s wider themes of private and public lives, and the roles that men occupy.
The use of the colour blue in this film is almost obsessive, with characters surrounding themselves with blue objects whilst being clad in blue clothing. This use of blue, whilst being incredibly striking, intentionally places the men and their surrounds within the colour spectrum of the pride flag as men who love men. The colour also effectively expresses through warmth and cool the incredible isolation which accompanies fleeting intimacy, as Jacques fears being alone between moments spent with Arthur, Lou Lou and the friends who surround him. Further, blue becomes the colour which amplifies the clinical, medicalised nature of Jacques’ illness which he comes to push against whilst wearing a pink shirt, the only warm tone we see in the entire film as he reclaims his life.
The film is set up as a fleeting love story. Arthur and Jacques are in very different places in their lives but are immediately enamoured with one another from their first meeting. Although Jacques does not present as unwell, it he attempts to keep Arthur at bay, only furthering the intrigue and infatuation that the young man has for Jacques. Their moments of intimacy are played out with such levity that we as the audience want them to fulfil their love story.
After the release of Call Me By Your Name last year (which is admittedly one of my very favourite films ever), many critics called for more films which frame queer romance as normal experiences – for which I agree. However, such critics also stated with this new framing should in lieu of stories interrupted by the presence of the AIDs epidemic. Much of the furore surrounding Sorry Angel is that it is yet another French AIDs film – but that shouldn’t make this story any less important. Viewers wanting lovely, shielded queer romances will probably receive them, but the telling of these very nuanced (often true) stories must be prioritised as essential details in our wider Pride narrative. I think that it’s easy to imbue ourselves and young, queer viewers in seeking out stories which make us feel good or validate our attractions or identity, but it’s also crucial that we know our history.
For me, this commentary was echoed within Sorry Angel. We watch Jacques and Arthur fall in love and we identify with their hopes of having a future together, but we realised (even before Arthur does) that it is simply impossible. The romance plays out to a truly heightened state and is dissolved through Jacques’ imminent and continued suffering. Additionally, although we are aware of so many deaths throughout the film, we see very little of it, mostly focusing on the holes which are left by these members of their community in a way that feels entirely non-exploitative.
Honoré’s incredibly tender film is as honest as it is fleeting, imbuing queer audiences with the need to hold their loved ones closer, knowing lucky we are to love who we love for a lifetime.