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In many love stories, especially romantic comedies but even dramas like this one, there is a will-they-or-won’t-they tension that lasts the duration of the film. Often the question is contrived and forced as the screenwriter pushes boy and girl together, then pulls them apart, then pushes back together again, and so on.

Neither partner is much of a catch, but maybe they'll be right for each other
Neither partner is much of a catch, but maybe they’ll be right for each other

Angèle et Tony does the same thing, but without ever feeling like it’s playing a game. The characters are well defined, and they are too mature to be manipulated by a hack screenwriter.

Tony (Grégory Gadebois) is a fisherman in the Normandy region of France. He’s no catch himself — at least at first glance. He’s overweight, he smokes, and he has a dangerous and unglamorous job. I have to say that Gadebois’ Tony does have a kind face. The woman who can see past his drawbacks might find a gentle man who owns his own business and makes a solid living.

Angèle (Clotilde Hesme) isn’t much of a catch either, although she’s a pretty easy catch by the looks of things. In fact the film opens on her, against the wall, going at it with a young man who then “pays” her with an Action Man doll. When she and Tony meet for the first time — a blind date set up on a web site — she comes on way too strong and Tony walks away in apparent contempt.

Tony lives with his family — his mother (Evelyne Didi) and his brother Ryan (Jérôme Huguet). Tony and Ryan have it in mind to find their father’s body, which has been somewhere at the bottom of the ocean for six months. Everyone tells them it’s impossible, but they haven’t given up.

Angèle is on parole, separated from her ten-year-old son. Her parole officer tells her to find work and stability, pronto. So her desperation and Tony’s kindness push them together. After that failed first date, there is no romance, but he invites her to work with his mother selling fish. She needs a place to stay and he is willing to let her have a room.

Angèle doesn’t seem like the kind of person who can hold down a job — much less one as demanding and unrewarding as gutting and selling fish. When she tries to visit her son, she doesn’t know what to do with herself and ends up leaving him in his grandparents’ capable hands. She lies to her parole officer about Tony, calling him her boyfriend at first, and later, her husband. That tells us that she is motivated to actually become Tony’s girlfriend, but we are never sure whether she wants it only to make the lie true, or whether she actually likes Tony. I won’t reveal how it plays out.

Angèle et Tony features a very good script from freshman writer/director Alix Delaporte. That’s not because of any twist or surprise ending in the plot, but because it feels like a complete world, populated by genuine human beings with the capacity for intelligence and growth.

After screening several challenging movies for the Denver Film Festival (some made better than others) it was relaxing and refreshing to watch Angèle et Tony, a simple film about normal people doing their best. See it if you need a breather from the intensity of the fest.