Mark of an Angel (12A)

3.00

Misdirection and mastery

So much film direction is misdirection, and in a thriller the tendency is more noticeable still.

A camera movement here, a sudden change of lighting there, and the audience will feel the way has been pointed, even if it later proves a feint, or a complete wrong turning. In Mark Of An Angel the misdirection is sometimes subtle, sometimes not so, but director Safy Nebbou in the end deserves the benefit of the doubt for just about preserving credibility when the plot goes into a wild reverse skid.

The film's first trick is to lure us in without giving too much away. Divorced single mother Elsa (Catherine Frot) has an outward poise and elegance that look convincing until one day, collecting her young son from a party, she spots a six-year-old girl she thinks she recognises. By stages she learns the girl's name – Lola – and tracks her to her home; then she ingratiates herself with Lola's mother Claire (Sandrine Bonnaire) so she can observe the girl at close quarters. What kind of creepiness is this, one wonders? Elsa seems to have some bond with the child, yet there's something unstable and obsessive about her interest, which both her own son ("Dad's right – you're depressive") and Claire begin to twig. Then we discover that Elsa lost her newborn daughter six years before in a hospital fire ...

Safy Nebbou has learnt suspense from Hitchcock. The first time he casts Elsa as the scary stalker he cheats a little by making it a dream sequence. But the second time is genuinely creepy: a long scene set at a school ballet concert (very Hitch) shifts cleverly between Elsa staring at Lola from the wings, Claire spotting Elsa from the stalls, and Lola herself giving her nervous all on stage. The lighting tips us the wink very obviously here. Elsa, standing under banks of lighting, is bathed in a red glare (she's in spiritual hell) and then a green haze (she's sick, or jealous, or both). Prior to this we have seen her swallowing antidepressants and breaking down in tears at the pharmacy where she works. That's enough to make us uneasy. Then, when Elsa's elderly parents start to exchange worried glances, we are envisaging scenes of their daughter being restrained in a hospital while doctors shake their heads in resignation.

For at some point we feel certain that there will be blood; a break-in and perhaps a kidnap attempt will ensure it. There is in fact a savage fight between Elsa and Claire, though its outcome wrongfoots us. Just when the film seems to have boxed itself into a corner – an innocent family torn apart by the delusions of a psycho-mum – it performs an audacious volte-face that few would have seen coming. I'm not sure about it even now, but one has to doff the chapeau to Catherine Frot and Sandrine Bonnaire for creating in these maternal rivals a degree of ambiguity that allows sympathy to slide one way, then the other. One also admires Nebbou's careful use of design: Claire's house at first seems to show us a perfect home, and a family with nothing to hide. Too perfect, possibly. You think again of the electric security gates that close off the outside world. Could there be a secret after all? These details may occur to you later. What Mark Of An Angel does very well is a minute-by-minute accumulation of doubt shading into dread. That it ends entirely unexpectedly is at once a coup de cinema and a bit of a cheat.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test