Thursday 3 November 2022

Falcon Lake (Charlotte Le Bon, 2022)

For the past decade, we've been used to seeing Charlotte Le Bon's fine performances in the likes of The Walk and Iris, but with Falcon Lake the Québécoise steps behind the camera for her first feature as director.  Falcon Lake, which is set and filmed in Le Bon's native province, is perhaps the finest directorial debut in recent memory, and it's a highly assured piece of filmmaking that both stands as one of 2022's cinematic highlights and heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice in cinema; if there's a better film among the contemporary titles on offer at this year's Raindance Film Festival, I'd love to know about it.  Falcon Lake plays at the festival tomorrow (when it is showing at the Genesis cinema), with the screening followed by a Q&A session with Le Bon; the film will also be available online from November 5 to November 12 as one of more than a dozen Raindance selections hosted by digital platform Bohemia Euphoria.    

As with Julianna Notten's Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls—another Canadian film from this year's Raindance—Falcon Lake is a coming-of-age story in which one of its protagonists romantically pursues another.  The superficial similarities are striking, but scratch the surface of Le Bon's film and you'll see just how radically different it is from the breezy, cheerful Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls.  Which is not to say that Falcon Lake is without humour—keep in mind it is a film centring on teens, who almost always come bundled with a fair dose of maladroitness—but it is above all else a haunting, melancholic work, one that wrings every drop of atmosphere from its stunning Laurentian locations.  Charlotte Le Bon's decision to shoot on film proves to be something of a masterstroke, with the 16mm stock adding a tactile quality to the many beautifully composed shots of the lake of the title, the shores of which are where 13-year-old Bastien (Joseph Engel) and 16-year-old Chloé (Sara Montpetit) spend the summer with their respective families. 

It isn't long before the somewhat reticent Bastien develops an attraction towards the older girl, with whom he has to share a room in the lakeside cabin inhabited by both families.  For the many adults who may not consider the teens' age gap to be considerable—especially when factoring in Bastien's insistence that he's nearly 14—it may be worth trying to recall the huge difference just a year can make when you're attempting to navigate the choppy waters of adolescence.  Unsurprisingly, it is the confident Chloé who controls the narrative of the relationship, although she voices concerns that she'll never find her place in the world; that said, she seems quite content to diverge from her peers in her firm belief that Falcon Lake is haunted by the ghost of a drowned child.  Chloé holds a distinct advantage over Bastien—and another potential suitor she encounters—in that she is bilingual; Chloé's linguistic edge is deftly illustrated in a scene in which she is briefly absent, and the two boys vying for her affections are left to a very awkward exchange in which neither can understand much of the other's language.    

In an impressive sleight of hand from Le Bon, it is this seemingly inconsequential moment that leads to a serious rift between Chloé and Bastien as their holiday nears its end.  What follows is both unexpected and quite moving, with Le Bon making some brave choices as her film plays out to its sombre conclusion.  Perhaps surprisingly, Le Bon herself doesn't make an appearance in Falcon Lake—instead opting to concentrate on her directorial duties—but she coaxes tremendous performances from her young leads, especially Montpetit, who drew much praise for her turn as the title character in last year's adaptation of Louis Hémon's Maria Chapdelaine.  It is easy to picture Le Bon in the part of Bastien's mother, a role played by the always-watchable Monia Chokri, who herself moved into directing features with 2019's A Brother's Love.  While Chokri's movie was a promising first film with a few rough edges, Falcon Lake is very much the finished article, its brilliance belying Charlotte Le Bon's directorial inexperience.

Darren Arnold

Images: Tandem Films