Abittersweet love story between a lonely east Berliner and a Polish black marketeer, “Little Angel” is a delight on almost every level. Transforming potentially downbeat material into often magical cinema, east German helmer Helke Misselwitz has come up with a small but touching feature that’s probably too slight for much arthouse play but will sit well at fests and on Eurotubes.
Ramona Schneider (Susanne Lothar) is a taciturn dreamer who has a boring job in a lipstick factory and spends her time observing others’ more volatile lives through the window of her apartment. At a subway station one day, she’s suddenly kissed on the lips by the handsome Andrzej (Cesary Pazura), who’s illegally peddling bootleg cigarettes and needs to throw the police off the scent.
They later meet again, and begin a cautious romance that soon blossoms into the love of Ramona’s life. Andrzej says he wants to marry her and settle in Germany but, finally, when she’s heavily pregnant, admits he already has a wife back home. While Andrzej is away, Ramona loses the baby after a Cesarean but pretends everything is OK. Unbeknownst to her lover, she’s hit on a solution to her problem of constructing the perfect family scenario.
There’s some heavy emotion at points in this tale, but in general writer-director Misselwitz maintains an upbeat tone, helped by a wonderfully textured performance from Lothar as the sad-faced, almost childlike Ramona, sparky playing by Kathrin Angerer as her half-sister Lucie, and the quiet charm of Pazura as the enigmatic Andrzej. Other parts are equally well cast.
Biggest surprise (given Misselwitz’s docu background) is the visual design of the film, which, though set in the dreary quarter around Ostkreuz station in east Berlin, has an almost supra-real flavor, thanks to Thomas Plenert’s careful compositions and use of color and lighting. The pic’s cinematic, “reality-but” feel is heightened by its oblique parceling out of information and an ultra-lean script that never dawdles and keeps on developing right to the end.
Though there’s a slight loss of momentum in the final reels, this is a highly accomplished second pic that flags Misselwitz as a talent to watch.