The Dreamlife of Angels - rated - SIMMERING

Erick Zonca made this, his first film, at 42. There's hope for all of us yet...

What an assured debut! An ensemble character study which unfolds slowly but richly, and moves in unexpected directions. The two central performances are wonderful contrasts, but for me, it is Natacha Regnier's performance as Marie, which shines. Elodie Boucher has a showier role, and she's all toothy grin and bitten nails as Isa, the homeless girl. But Natacha Regnier shows with the occasional flicker across a blank face that she's capable of conveying the most subtle of emotional messages.

The film is set in Lille, which seems cold, wet, grey and unforgiving. There are endless factories offering mindless work for long-suffering women. The men seem to have all the more "glamourous" jobs. One of the men, Charly, is played by Patrick Mercado. He's a big, fat, funny-looking fellow, and he almost steals the film. "I don't think of myself as fat," he says, "it's all a question of vocabulary."

These girls must learn about love - which is perilous enough - but they must do it on their own, with no family or friends to support them. They should be playing, but they really can't afford to. For them, making the wrong choice can have the most catastrophic consequences.

The Dreamlife of Angels gives you plenty of room to ponder the difficulties of marginalised young girls such as these. Its sombre, compassionate mood is hard to shake. And it'd make a great double with Two Girls and a Guy.