When English student Meredith Kercher was murdered in 2007 while studying in Italy and her flat-mate Amanda Knox was charged with her murder (along with boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and friend Rudy Guede), the resulting cack-handed investigation and media circus with it’s salacious details of Foxy Knoxy and her sex life, of drugs and partying, of race, of sketchy evidence, of police and political corruption, of public opinion, forever muddied the waters around the murder, ensuring that Knox and her co-defendants could never have a fair trial and relegating the victim to a footnote in her own murder. Even now the case still rumbles on; after trials, convictions, acquittals and retrials Knox could now face extradition.

Tasked with making a film of the case and ostensibly drawing on Newsweek and Daily Beast correspondent Barbie Latza Nadeau’s coverage of the case, her book Angel Face, director Michael Winterbottom and writer Paul Viragh have instead chosen to make an intelligent, thoughtful meta-meditation on the elusive nature of truth and the international media feeding frenzy in which the names have been changed to protect the innocent and the not so innocent.

Commissioned to make a true-life crime drama based on a notorious murder and badly in need of a hit, film director Thomas (Daniel Bruhl) travels to Italy (Siena standing in for Perugia) to begin research with the aid of journalist Simone (Kate Beckinsale) who shows him around town, gets him access to the trial and the major players and introduces him to creepy Edoardo (Valerio Mastrandrea), a local blogger, drug dealer and all round dodgy geezer who implies he knows more about the murder than he’s letting on. Haunted by visions and fantasies, Daniel becomes obsessed with making an honest film that speaks to the universal truth at the heart of the case, employing as a guide to the city’s dark underworld student and party girl Melanie (Cara Delevigne) who may just prove to be the increasingly self-destructive Daniel’s salvation…

“If you’re going to make a movie, make it fiction. You can’t tell the truth unless you make it fiction.” So Daniel Bruhl’s Michael Winterbottom avatar Thomas is told by practically everyone he encounters upon landing in Italy and, confronted with so much conflicting evidence and testimony and recognising that ultimately it’s impossible to ever really know the truth of what went on, he instead sets out to make something more philosophical than the lurid, ripped-from-the-headlines true crime drama his producers back in London are expecting and in the process comes perilously close to losing his soul as his quest for truth and purity tips over into obsession.

While in its commitment to honouring the victim of murder and reclaiming them from the headlines Winterbottom’s The Face Of An Angel is thematically reminiscent of Andrew O’Hagan’s The Missing and Bruhl’s character’s obsessive quest has shades of James Ellroy’s My Dark Places, the most obvious touchstone for Winterbottom is Dante, both Thomas and Winterbottom structuring their films after the poet’s Divine Comedy, the luminous Cara Delevigne playing both Virgil and Beatrice to Thomas as she guides him through the Hell of Inferno first to Purgatory and then beyond to Paradise. If that sounds pretentious then it’s because it is but what’s wrong with that? There’s something refreshing about a film that homages one of the greatest works of Western Literature rather than some Marvel superhero comic and while the film is self-indulgent and veers pretty close to disappearing up its own rear end, particularly in it’s interminable mid-section as Bruhl snorts coke and becomes increasingly paranoid while wrestling with his creative demons, its saving grace is Delevigne whose nuanced, charismatic turn as Daniel’s vivacious, puckish guide promises great things for the future.

 

Movie Review: The Face Of An Angel
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