Review of “Black Aura on an Angel”

One of the most disturbing aspects of Black Aura on an Angel is that the film, originally released in 2004 and now available on DVD, is based on true events.

This psychological thriller chronicles the havoc that unchecked mental illness can wreak on a relationship — in this case, between an African-American lesbian couple. But unlike most films that explore tortured minds, this one doesn't romanticize illness and doesn't center on the ill individual. Black Aura is concerned with how one woman's psychological problems affect the woman who falls in love with her.

Angel (Faith Trimel, who is also the filmmaker) has it bad for Phaedra (Sherry Richardson) from the first moment they meet. The enchantment is mutual, and the two soon fall in love with each other.

Phaedra is spunky, alive and a little unpredictable, while Angel is grounded, even-keeled and dependable. Each is drawn to what she sees in the other as complementary to herself. But what could have been an opposites-attract tale quickly becomes a saga of co-dependence.

Black Aura traces the path of their destructive relationship, charting its bumpy course in a manner that is both plausible and gripping. Angel is a character who is easy to relate to, and since the story unfolds from her point of view, it is easy for the viewer to get caught up in the drama just as Angel does.

Angel's best friend, Jennings (Debra Calloway Duke), who is a psychic, tries to warn her that Phaedra has a dark side, going so far as telling her that Phaedra has a black aura. But Angel is so bewitched that she makes light of her friend's uneasiness with her new girl. Angel doesn't want to hear it, and really, who would? Even as the portent of Jennings ' assessment is obvious to the viewer, Angel doesn't come across as outlandishly foolish in choosing not to listen. Instead of groaning with frustration at the character on screen, we can instead sit back and marvel at how easily someone could fall into Angel's situation.

At first the lovers ride the high of their new relationship, but the honeymoon ends quickly and abruptly as Phaedra's insecurities bubble to the surface, soon giving way to a roiling brew of jealous delusions. At first she acts out her rage on herself, but eventually she targets Angel as well.

Phaedra's extreme emotions and behavior are partially explained via murky flashbacks of childhood abuse. No doubt many viewers will be turned off by the association between a lesbian character and a history of sexual abuse. But because Phaedra isn't the only lesbian character in the film, it's harder to justify that kind of snap judgment. Thankfully in this case, a psychological condition is not equated with sexual orientation.

As Phaedra convinces Angel that Angel is all she has, it's no surprise that Angel is soon promising never to leave Phaedra. The film then explores what happens to such induced promises once a relationship becomes tumultuous and even violent. Angel loses herself in striving to be Phaedra's everything.

First-time filmmaker Trimel doesn't shy away from exploring controversial territory, whether it be a lesbian character's childhood abuse or violence in an African-American relationship. But her film depicts the universality of these themes and manages to do so without being didactic or judgmental.

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