From highly enjoyable exercises in pop style (8 Women) to over-conceptualized constructs that left me completely cold (5×2), Francois Ozon’s films are hit-or-miss. Misgivings about his adaptation of the novel by Elizabeth Taylor arose the moment the snooty Berlin box office dude made fun of our choice of movie — was this really going to be “Rosamunde Pilcher hoch zehn,” a terrible melodrama that we hadn’t packed enough tissues for?

Yes and no. The story of Angel Deverell (Romola Garai), the precocious grocer’s daughter who transforms herself into a successful writer only to lose it all to love, war, and the unpredictable currents of taste is indeed what we used to call a Schmonzette, an overblown melodrama that should be the object of our ridicule, and that of ticket takers everywhere. Anybody with a hankering for rustling fabric, lavish sets, trembling bosoms and tragic turns of events is certainly welcome to enjoy Angel at face value.

But Ozon manages to keep a generally winking attitude even while he’s presenting a fully functional romantic epic. Through the use of rear-projection, a lush score, and especially Romola Garai’s finely tuned performance, Angel has its melodramatic cake and keeps its post-ironic distance, too. The movie itself very much resembles the preposterous stories with which Angel Deverell makes her fortune — and is thus also a target for the snide comments of smarter people within the movie. With the help of an editor’s wife played by Charlotte Rampling and grim painter Esmé (Michael Fassbender), Ozon provides sophisticated commentary on the film from within the film. As recreation of a (mostly) defunct genre, Angel feels less self-conscious than Todd Haynes’ faux-Sirk Far From Heaven; thanks to Romola Garai, it is also more engaging.

Angel does not have a U.S. release date yet.

Angel. Francois Ozon, 2007. ****

The trailer: