The Dream Life of Angels is French helmer Eric Zonca's first feature. The two main characters - both female - are twenty. Isa (Elodie Bouchez), her only piece of luggage a rucksach, has an optimistic attitude to the hardships of life. She arrives in Lille, an industrial city in the north of France, as she passed through a number of other cities, looking for a job. Never the same, never for long.
She meets Marie (Natacha Régnier). As solitary as her, but for different reasons. Marie is unsociable, hypersensitive, in rebellion against her background - and, increasingly, a sex slave to unscrupulous, egotistical, and dangerously seductive Chriss (Grégoire Colin).
Born in Paris, Elodie Bouchez made her mark in André Téchiné's Wild Reeds, for which she was awarded the 1995 César (French Oscar) for Best Promising Actress. Vibrant, animated, she reminds one of Beatrice Dalle - a more waifish version of (Who wouldn't be?). Hailing from Belgium, Natacha Régnier is more secretive, more timid, yet strong and determined. As for Grégoire Colin, he is perhaps best known for playing the lead in Agniezska Holland's Olivier, Olivier. He also appearead in Patrice Chéreau's Queen Margot with Isabelle Adjani and in Claire Denis's Nénette et Boni.
ON THE TITLE
ERICK ZONCA: It was the producer's suggestion and I accepted it in a subjective way. Elodie dreams, she is a dreamer. It is the dream - and dreamer - aspect of her personality that energizes and helps other.
FRANCOIS MARQUIS: It was the first title that came to mind. I can't remember how. Before we registered the film, we had to come up with a title. Other titles options were "The Cross," "Innocence," "Illusion," "Optimism"... That led to the notion of dreams.
ON MAKING THE DREAM LIFE OF ANGELS
ERICK ZONCA: Ages ago, I met a the young lady that inspired the character of Isa, the one played by Elodie Bouchez. I was casting my second short film, she came to the audition, she had a rucksack and a sort of press book filled with photos which was actually her diary. This was four years ago. That's how I began to work on the idea, and when she opened her heart. I kept in touch with her and followed her journeys. As for Marie, I was also inspired by a woman I know, who, at the time we met, was into total rebellion against society, and felt the same powerless anger as Marie in the film.
QUESTION: Were you not afraid the film might be outdated? It describes today's youth, yet there is no AIDS, there are no drugs...
ERICK ZONCA: Well, they smoke a joint in the beginning. But I didn't want the film to be about drugs.
ON THE CASTING
ERICK ZONCA: We thought of Elodie from the very beginning. With the seed of the idea. We showed her the script three years later. We got Natasha through casting.
ELODIE BOUCHEZ: I met Eric four years ago at a film festival, I presented him wit an award for one of his short films. When he came up on the stage, he said something like: Elodie Bouchez doesn't know it yet, but I'm writing my first feature film for her. I was flattered, I was touched - and sort of kept that promise in the back of my mind. Over time, I didn't see much of Eric. Then I got the screenplay. I loved the story and character of Marie, but Isa was passive. I talked to Erick about it. I had to trust him, and he had to trust me. And off we went. At first I saw nothing I could hook into. But it clicked during the first day of shooting. Erick helped me through.
NATACHA REGNIER: It clicked for me when we did the scene in the café where I am annoyed at the boys. I saw the screenplay and was overwhelmed. I was happy to be asked to be in the movie. I worked hard to play a character like that. I was lucky Erick felt the same way. I think he was intrigued by me.
ERICK ZONCA: As for Chriss, he is not a sympathetic character. The actor didn't play him to attract sympathy.
GREGOIRE COLIN: What I realized after I read the screenplay was that this was not an easy part. Do I have this side to me? Can I feel this nervous? The answer is yes, and I did it. At the same time, I realized other things to be exploited. He was an unpleasant character one could meet everyday. He was a horrible person with power. But it's part of human life. He is a bastard. But we leave him when he stops being the torturer.
ERICK ZONCA: He's not an abominable character.
GREGOIRE COLIN: Others consider him that way. I don't despise him.
QUESTION: Is there opposition between the character of the two girls?
ERICK ZONCA: Yes. They approach life differently.
NATACHA REGNIER:: You can't call Marie egotistical. She was flayed alive by life. She is lonely. Nobody was around to educate her. Those who don't know love can't love. I'm not sure about the violence of the character. The part is well-written. I brought out what was discussed with Erick. I put some of my own violence into it from loved ones. It's a mix of what Erick created and myself.
QUESTION: Was it easy?
NATACHA REGNIER:: On the set, sometimes it was fine and sometimes we fought.
ELODIE BOUCHEZ: This is the first time I felt free on the set. It came naturally. The character felt that way. I was free to improvise despite technical restraints.
ON THE ENDING
ERICK ZONCA: The suicide? I wrote it like that. There is an element of despair in the personality. She accepts it in life. But then there is also a rebirth. Isa is needed at the end. She carries life and death. Isa's character has faith and trusts, and she lives life. But she has to experience death. Otherwise, her character is meaningless. To live, you have to experience death. But there is hope in this film. Everything has two sides.
QUESTION: Why end the film with a shot of a multitude of women in a workshop/factory where Isa finds a job?
ERICK ZONCA: I wanted there to be a universal context to Isa. I wanted an external viewpoint. I wanted a supervisor and working women so that the audience could say, "These are real people." I want the audience on the side of these woman. I wanted to show the scars on the wrist of one woman worker. I asked her to raise her wrist so I could shoot it for the screen. These woman were the real workers in the factory where the film was shot.
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