Inspired by the infamous 2007 murder of English student Meredith Kercher and the conviction of her housemate Amanda Knox, The Face of An Angel attempts to explore why people are so fascinated with the death of strangers. Focusing on a group of tabloid journalists at the time of the trial, the film explores the blur between truth and reality that is provoked by such cases, when very aspect of the accused’s character comes under scrutiny and, to the public, determines how guilty they are of the accused crimes. The film attempts to highlight how this obsession with the possible killers means the victim is forgotten about, that there is no room for both crude speculation and genuine empathy. It’s hard to take this stance seriously, though, when the film spends so little time on the crime and so much on its insufferable protagonist’s struggle to write a film about it.
The attention the film places on filmmaker Thomas (Daniel Brühl) is its way of expressing the difficulty of finding truth in grotesque and inexplicable tragedies. But as the streets of Siena pull Thomas into their hedonistic labyrinth and the mystifying, nonsensical nature of the case means he can’t write without the help of cocaine, we are drawn further and further into his inner mind, which is equally bizarre and banal. Cara Delevingne has a standout role as a lively young English student who has a playful, platonic relationship with Thomas, but her character, like almost all of this film, just seems like a pointless distraction from the fact that director Michael Winterbottom has less idea what he’s doing with his movie than Thomas does.
In an early scene, Thomas is told about his film that “you can’t tell the truth unless you make it a fiction”. And indeed, in The Face of An Angel, all the names of the real people involved in the murder have been changed, so many details fictionalised and focus diverted to the most profoundly useless of outsiders that there is no emotional catharsis in the film’s final dreamlike tribute to Kercher. It is an elegy for no one.
Photograph: West End Films