Charlotte Le Bon’s debut feature suffers from offering familiar beats with almost methodical proceduralism.
In Celine Sciamma’s Petite Maman, we see a young girl meet another in the woods. Soon we learn the latter girl happens to be a literal younger manifestation of the former’s mother. In Charlotte Le Bon’s debut film, Falcon Lake, a pre-pubescent boy falls in love for the first time with the daughter of a family friend in a campsite supposedly haunted by a ghost.
While the relationship dynamics in the latter differ from those in the former, they’re both supernatural coming-of-age tales navigating deeply compassionate relationships between two people who somehow both know each other and yet don’t. But in its comparatively pedestrian approach to burgeoning adolescence, Le Bon’s movie can’t quite grasp what made Sciamma’s film so intimate and fantastical.
Falcon Lake relies significantly on the evening sun-dipped cinematography and silhouetted lighting that make up its neatly picturesque French forest setting. The film draws most of its atmosphere and emotion from the locale rather than the characters or situations. The place also drives the plot. The large lake near the vacation home is the stuff of legend. Someone drowned there, stranding their ghost to roam the area – or so says Chloé (Sara Montpetit). She is an older teenager, and Bastien (Joseph Engel) has just become one. The emotional and sexual callings of adolescence force their bond to grow. This growth is slow, procedural, and, unfortunately, follows extremely predictable beats that show up time and again in these types of movies.
For instance, Bastien’s jealousy when a few older English boys – taller, more muscular and developed, and certainly more confident than he – start to take a liking to Chloé is well-worn territory. So is Chloé inviting Bastien to a party of local young people. There they drink and dance, and yet again, Bastien sees Chloé dancing with other guys.
The positive events are familiar as well. The two share quiet, intimate moments. Bastien experiences new pleasures: first time touching a peer’s breasts, first time smoking weed. They all happen very methodically and unambiguously, denying them a fresh sense of emotion. Compare that to scenes when Nelly and Marion have a sleepover in Petite Maman, the way the simplicity of their bond grows through acute revelations about their past and future. It’s a relationship developed three-dimensionally instead of flat and linear like Chloé and Bastien’s.
[T]he mood of the movie never supports its brooding aims.
It’s perhaps the reason for the ghost story literary device. Regardless, it feels rather contrived, begging the audience to consider that Falcon Lake has something deeper and darker on its mind than just an adolescent romance. Yet the mood of the movie never supports its brooding aims. It lacks bite in the stakes of the characters’ relationship. Even Chloé’s supposed hallucinations become little more than topics filtered through mild conversations over a campfire.
The only thing Falcon Lake draws out in morbidity is Chloé’s habit of posing dead and having Bastien take pictures of it. The night sequences are filmed with a quietness that ironically turns the movie’s subtlety into a cudgel. This becomes especially glaring once the reveal that the entire plot is leading to a rug pull. It all feels wholly emotionally manipulative.
Le Bon knows what looks good, and that’s the movie’s strong point. Filmed on 16mm, the warm summer colors shine on the natural surroundings. They turn the lake into a brilliantly deep blue contrasted with the orange sky. The results prove entrancing, evoking the nostalgic feelings of an adolescent summer. It’s rather disappointing that these captured moments don’t synthesize with a rote and predictable plotting of twee adolescent romance. Besides disingenuously leading the audience into a tonally artificial and unearned tragi-climax, Falcon Lake never rises above its genre tropes.
Falcon Lake is growing up in select theatres and on VOD now.