While Charlotte Le Bron’s directorial debut doesn’t wholly succeed in hybridizing genres, it excels when telling its young leads’ stories.
(This review is part of our coverage of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.)
Falcon Lake, the feature directorial debut of French-Canadian actress Charlotte Le Bon, adapting Bastien Vivès’ comic A Sister, is a coming-of-age drama with hints and undertones of something darker and eerier than familiar adolescent angst. The combination of the two isn’t always successful or satisfying—the ending, in particular, is likely to irk some viewers—but enough works that it’s a picture of interest.
The story opens with 14-year-old Bastien (Joseph Engel), who, along with his family arrives from France to spend summer vacation at a secluded lakeside cabin in Quebec that they’ll be sharing with another family. The two families have done this in the past, so they don’t hesitate to have Bastien and his younger brother share a room with Chloe (Sara Montpetit), the other family’s 16-year-old daughter. At first, she’s not particularly thrilled with having to have Bastien tag along with her, especially when she’s trying to spend time with older kids. Gradually though, Chloe begins to enjoy hanging with Bastien, coming to think of him as a kindred spirit of sorts and a reminder of the open-minded innocence that she’s long since put aside.
Bastien, on the other hand, becomes besotted with Chloe, never realizing or recognizing that the current age gap between them as an early teen and a mid-teen is a practically insurmountable gulf. Complicating the situation further is that Chloe is neither leading Bastien on nor toying with him as a cruel joke. She genuinely likes and cares for him and while there are a couple of times in which she allows certain boundaries to be blurred, they are borne less out of meanness than an urge to give her own emerging powers of seduction a test drive. But Bastien is not yet emotionally mature enough to recognize this, and that’s where the trouble starts.
While Bastian and Chloe’s travails play out, something darker may be brewing. One of the film’s early shots captures what appears to be a dead body floating face-down in the titular lake. We later learn that Chloe is obsessed with the story of a child who supposedly drowned in the same lake, though it is –probably- nothing more than a story. As Falcon Lake continues the friendship between Bastien and Chloe deepens and the divide between them grows ever wider, the picture’s dark undercurrents begin to take hold. So much so that some viewers may find themselves wondering what sort of film they’re watching.
For me, the moments where Falcon Lake seems to push into a more overtly supernatural mode don’t quite work—they’re too self-consciously foreboding and primarily seem meant to help viewers accept certain final reel plot developments. For the most part, though, it’s a solid debut for Le Bon as a director. She navigates the pitfalls and confusion of adolescent longing with quiet, knowing, and often very funny craft. She also draws strong performances from Engel and Montpetit, who both nail the ever-churning emotions Bastian and Chloe experience regarding each other and the world around them.
There are a few moments on hand in Falcon Lake that may scandalize some viewers. Others may be put off by its conclusion, even if it’s one the picture’s been building towards from the start. For the most part, however, it’s a smart, observant, sometimes moving film—one that recognizes the pains, perils, and occasional pleasures of adolescence—along with the heartbreak its ending can bring.