The Angel -- Film Review

It’s a movie about drug addiction but this Norwegian film doesn’t add anything new to the subject

One has to be a certain kind of cinema junkie to appreciate movies about drug addiction. For like the world supply of heroin and cocaine, such films seem to be endless and less transporting with each dose. Nevertheless, Norway has shipped over for foreign-language Oscar consideration "The Angel," a film that seems to operate on the assumption that no one has ever made a movie about this subject before. Why else the same scenes, situations and personalities that inhabit such movies ad infinitum?

Writer-director Margreth Olin claims the film is based on a friend’s story and you can clearly feel her compassion for her troubled heroin-addict played by several actresses at different ages culminating in Maria Bonnevie’s flat-out space cadet. The only interesting twist here is that she does the right things — gives up her precious child until she gets clean.

Otherwise, the film is a tough slog through spousal and child abuse, alcoholism, prostitution, degradation and dysfunction without the intervention of art — you know, that thing that makes you understand why you’re on such a familiar journey.

Perhaps the film isn’t about drugs at all but rather how women accept pernicious patterns in their lives, generation after generation, without exploring other options. In this sense, the drug addiction at the center of the film, of a young woman with a female toddler who realizes she can’t cope, is a blessing: It actually breaks the cycle of abuse in this one family.

Is that Olin’s meaning? Hard to say, because the film leans heavily on the creation of several deep-dish roles for female actors — all impressively played — and a highly realistic portrayal of the more disgusting aspects of drug addiction. In this, the film feels both heart-felt and wrong-headed: Olin empathizes with her heroine greatly and without judgment, but doesn’t seem to understand that books and movies have done this subject to death.

Opened: Oct. 2, 2009 in Norway
Production co.: Speranza Fil SA
Cast: Maria Bonnevie, Gunilla Roor, Antti Reini, Helene Michaelsen, Mila Olin, Benjamin Helstad
Director/screenwriter: Margreth Olin
Producer/music: Thomas Robsahm
Director of photography: Kim Hiorthoy
Production designer: Asa Isacsson
Costume designer: Karen Fabritius-Gram
Editor: Helge Billing
Unrated, 100 minutes