“It’s apparently fun to drown,” says sixteen-year-old Chloé, the droll, moody teen at the heart of Charlotte Le Bon’s debut feature, “Falcon Lake.” It’s a pithy line that echoes Cecilia Lisbon’s response (“Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl”) when she’s asked why she tried to harm herself in Sofia Coppola‘s “The Virgin Suicides.” Unlike Cecilia and her sisters, Chloé only plays at being dead, seeing how long she can float in the lake near her family’s cabin or lie in the road like a deer hit by a passing car. But in doing so, she fulfills the same adolescent fantasy for a neighborhood boy in Bastien, the son of a family friend who has come to visit.
An idyllic Quebec summer passes for the teenagers, who gradually warm to one another despite an uncertain start. Bastien is fourteen, only two years younger than Chloé but a world away in terms of maturity and experience. When she takes him to parties and introduces him to her older friends, his hesitance is that of a young person on the brink of transformation: someone about to have their first drink, first cigarette, or first kiss. His timidity infuses the film with a specific kind of tension that posits young adulthood as something both inherently threatening and exciting. When he watches Chloé washing her hair, his crush in full bloom, her being possibly the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. But when she tells him ghost stories, he can’t be entirely sure whether or not she’s truly joking.
Le Bon’s narrative, inspired by the graphic novel “A Sister” by Bastien Vivès, may lack somewhat in originality, but it makes up for this in both charm and the boundless chemistry between leads Joseph Engel and Sara Montpetit. Both director and cast expertly handle the film’s balance between melancholy and bright humor; there are nerves and anxiety for both Bastien and Chloé as they navigate their burgeoning feelings and levity in the moments when they remember they’re just kids. In weaving through elements of ghostly, spectral dread, Le Bon shows her knack for mixing genres and styles to create a layered take on the coming-of-age. Shooting on 16mm gives the film a haunting sense of texture and color, while elements of the sound design feel almost ASMR-inspired at times.
Chloé’s more bizarre habits soon rub off on Bastien, who joins in with her ghost hunts around the lake, donning a white sheet and standing among the trees while she snaps photos as proof. Reveling in her dark attitude, Chloé asks Bastien to share his biggest fear. She expects him to say the water, having heard that he once nearly drowned as a child, but his response is far more surprising: masturbating in front of his parents. And just to prove to him how silly a fear it is, Chloé decides, in one of the film’s standout moments, to do just that herself, calling her mother to her room halfway through the act. Her boldness and liveliness, alongside the interior gloom, are enjoyable to see in a young female protagonist, even as she hovers just on the cusp of manic pixie dream girl.
The film’s finale sees Le Bon push at the boundaries of her story in an ambitious, if somewhat opaque, way; Bastien’s apprehension around the lake and Chloé’s ghost story converge in an ambiguity that points to profound tragedy. This tragedy somewhat overrides the lasting feeling from “Falcon Lake,” rounding off the film in darkness rather than the sweet longing that carried much of the narrative before. Still, this is a controlled and impressive debut from Le Bon that hints at talent to come and offers a warm, if not always unique, approach to the growing pains of young love. [B]