(Katell Quillévéré, 2010)
Katell Quillévéré's debut is that most French of things; a bourgeois drama. A coming of age drama set in provincial Northern France, at that. It deals with the age old tension between the burgeoning sexuality of an adolescent - in this case involving 14 year old Anna, played with a sensitive, subtle realism by Clara Augarde - and the religious feeling still important in the small town world which has influenced her childhood. Quillévéré widens her gaze past Anna to include her immediate family, the young Parish priest whose own faith is being shaken by the attention given to him by Anna's mother, and her ailing Grandfather, unrepentant and spirited in the face of his own mortality.
Anna, and more specifically her flowering beauty and newly sexual presence, is a catalyst in the stories of the surrounding characters, awakening something in her Grandfather (he gets an erection while she washes him), perhaps prompting the doubts in her priest with her questions about faith and belief, and making her mother feel more conscious of her own age and waning attractiveness.
While this could be heavy material, Quillévéré keeps it light and almost peppy. Scenes are mainly short and elliptical and the narrative skips between characters, punctuated with an eclectic, telling soundtrack made up of choral music to represent Anna's spiritual impulses, English traditional folk to represent her connection with the countryside (this is the kind of film where people are always taking walks) and her Grandfather's 50s French Pop, to represent more hedonistic, secular pleasures.
The characters are well-rounded, believable people and the themes skilfully interwoven with the fragile plot; Quillévéré is undoubtedly a talented writer. There are a couple of extremely intense scenes where Anna confronts her sexuality head-on, and the way the Church scenes have a different rhythm - fewer cuts and a smoothly mobile camera - reveal some directorial talent. But largely the film is visually pedestrian, the work of a director still discovering her style.
The warmth and resonance of the world and characters depicted here partly compensate, but only partly.