Movie Review: Angeliena

Angeliena is a distinctly South African comedy drama from the mind of writer-director Uga Carlini. Best known for Alison, a biographical hybrid docudrama about a woman who survived after being left for dead, Carlini turned to a much lighter story. Treating the Alison documentary with a fairy tale motif to soften the tragedy’s sharp edges and interlace docudrama, she’s continued this strain of magic realism in Angeliena. Inspired by Amelie, another film with a name beginning with an A, Angeliena embraces a similar penchant for decorative trinket box sentimentality. Carlini aligns her comedy drama with liquorice allsorts, speaking to the film’s colourful, kitsch, innocent, playful, sweet-natured and crowd-pleasing feel.

Loosely based on a true story, Angeliena follows the adventures of a beloved and eccentric hospital parking attendant who dreams of travelling the world. Struggling to overcome the limits of her menial day job, Angeliena turns her attention to daydreaming and relationships, decorating her booth with a wall-to-wall collage of cut outs and religious artefacts. When the despicable hospital owner, a resident doctor, threatens to automate the parking lot going against his father’s wishes… Angeliena’s dreams and shrine seem doomed.

Angeliena stars the versatile Euodia Samson as the downtrodden parking attendant with a heart of gold. As a tale about self love and finding beauty in the most unexpected places, Angeliena’s naïve tone and styling reduces its characters to caricatures. While her storied face speaks to the rigours of a tough life, Angeliena is a hopeful, plucky and other-centred woman. Flashbacks add emotional depth to the character, who besides being a committed parking lot custodian thrives on an obsessive lifelong dream to escape her station and travel abroad.

Euodia Samson is a generous actor, the figurehead of a broad ensemble, who gives her supporting cast ample room to shine. Playing the wallflower who dared to dream without inhibition, she’s supported by Thapelo Mokoena, Colin Moss, Kuli Roberts, June van Merch, Nicole Madell, Marciel Hopkins and Tshamano Sebe. As if the cast wasn’t star-studded enough, the film benefits from glorified cameos from Schalk Bezuidenhout, Sandra Prinsloo, Deon Lotz, Sean Cameron Michael, Gary Green and Antoinette Louw. Hosting such a sprawling cast in such a breezy and upbeat production, there’s simply not enough time to anchor characters. Operating in this lightweight yet heartfelt dimension, Angeliena’s focus is on simple fun and pure escapism rather than picking at the seams.

angeliena movie

“Why’d Dracula go to the doctor? …he couldn’t stop coffin.”

Coming at a time when everyone would gladly welcome a fluffy comedy drama, the unicorn-friendly film’s style over substance approach keeps it easy-going in spite of flirting with some heavyweight themes around unfulfilled dreams, disease, injustice and corruption. Colourful in terms of aesthetic appeal, production design and wardrobe, this rainbow colour palette also reflects the film’s South African flavour and diverse casting. The refreshing casting represents Madiba ideals while hinting at deeper socio-economic disparities but Angeliena is more focused on entertainment, empowerment and hope than trying to wield an overt political commentary.

The dialogue is riddled with zippy one-liners and South African twang, enrobing the emotional core of Angeliena’s spirited tale in Chappies bubblegum fun. From Amelie chocolate box daydreaming and spaghetti western-inspired card games to overcast nightmare demolitions, Angeliena’s eclectic feel does overextend from time-to-time, leveraging its magic realist wild card to smooth over tonal fluctuations. As a modern fairy tale, it has flair and remains enjoyable through its self-acknowledged sentimentality. While this breezy charm and novelty store sparkle works, its superficial handling keeps the story so lightweight that it doesn’t accumulate enough of an emotional investment to pluck heart strings when it really counts in the wobbly third act.

Unfortunately, this comedy drama is double-edged contending with a duality where strengths are weaknesses. Real yet unreal, lightweight yet insubstantial, heartfelt yet exaggerated, fun yet frustrating… Angeliena’s aspirations are pure but it struggles to ground its rainbow characteristics. A fairly simple story, Angeliena’s overdone by a late setback and undermined by thin characterisation.

Carlini’s led by heart and passion, which Angeliena thrives on through its eager performances, magpie style, fun energy and surreal vibrations. This is enough to carry the gentle, heartfelt, sentimental and soothing film through its paces, permeated by a stellar cast with an upbeat theme from Refentse and music by Charl Johan-Lingenfelder. Being the cinematic equivalent of liquorice allsorts, Angeliena embraces its colourful, kitschy and naïve values with a feisty attitude in the pursuit of love, hope and faith. It’s a charming, entertaining, kaleidoscopic and lightly enjoyable watch constrained by its own candy floss daydreaming and fairy tale ambitions.

The bottom line: Sparkly