It would be unfair to pigeonhole “Rendez-vous With an Angel” as a euthanasia comedy, although it is frequently comic and often involves euthanasia. Gallic scribe-helmers Sophie de Daruvar and Yves Thomas undertake an ambitious tonal sleight-of-hand that they ultimately cannot finesse, and the pic’s final, imperfectly timed twist feels like peremptory rug-pulling. But thanks to the comedic brilliance of stars Isabelle Carre and Sergi Lopez, “Rendez-vous” moves along engagingly for the most part in a Truffaut-like fashion. Pic could court distrib attention but may find its merits upstaged by its controversial subject matter.
Roland (Lopez) works in an audio equipment store, having lost his identity-affirming gig as opera critic and desperate to get it back (his all-consuming obsession appropriately underscored with swelling Wagner, Mozart and Verdi samplings on the soundtrack). His relationship with longtime g.f. Judith (Carre) is defined by her admitted inability to join him on the Olympian heights of his music appreciation. Diffident almost to the point of ditziness, Judith timidly accepts her subservient role.
Pic’s opening finds Judith racing across Paris to the Opera and clutching a pair of tickets, her late arrival due to her having been fired from her nursing job for an unspecified but clearly serious infraction. That Roland grabs the tickets and absentmindedly shuts the loge door in her face doesn’t faze her; more frustrating is her failure to hold his attention long enough to inform him of her newly unemployed status. She pretends to go to work and finally, exasperated, makes a hilarious confessional CD — complete with rhyming rap lyrics and a driving hip-hop beat. Judith chickens out and hides the CD, but not before Roland learns of her situation.
Fascinated by her skill at keeping a secret from him and curious about what else she may be hiding, Roland starts following her, exaggeratedly sneaking around corners and popping up from shrubbery in ways that recall Jean-Pierre Leaud’s silent-movie-type antics in Truffaut’s “Stolen Kisses.” But Judith has reluctantly taken a new position; the act that got her axed from the hospital has led to phone calls from the terminally ill and their relatives that the soft-hearted nurse cannot refuse. As she grows into her difficult role as angel of death, Judith starts to change, outwardly donning different outfits for each intervention, while inwardly assuming greater stature and self-assurance. Roland’s problems have now assumed very different proportions compared with those of her clientele.
Roland watches this transformation with awe, stupefied at finding a heroine of operatic proportions in his own living room. A final plot development doubtless looked better on paper than it does on the screen.
Lopez, whose versatility is unquestioned (from super-nice-guy roles in early Manuel Poirier films like “Western” to the masterful villain of “Pan’s Labyrinth”), here displays a perfectly calibrated mix of oblivious single-mindedness and farcical confusion. Carre, fresh from her luminous perf as a recovering heroin addict in Francois Ozon’s “Hideaway,” nuances her gradual transition without losing the essence of her character’s straightforward vulnerability.
Tech credits are pro.