Writer/director Charlotte Le Bon’s debut feature Falcon Lake opens with a wide shot – or as wide as is possible in squared-off Academy ratio – of an idyllic lake at dusk. As insects can be heard buzzing with life, the camera slowly tilts down to reveal something closer to death: a human body floating still on the water, with only the back of the head visible above the surface. After a time, the body suddenly bursts into motion, and the person takes in a deep, loud breath of restorative air.
This is Chloé (Sara Montpetit), a 16-year-old no less fixated on death than on swimming – and she will prove both a friend and a fascination to 13-year-old Bastien (Joseph Engel), who has come with his mother Violette (Monia Chokri), father Romain (Arthur Igual) and little brother Titi (Thomas Laperriere) to stay for the summer in the lakeside cabin where Chloé lives with her mother Louise (Karine Gonthier-Hyndman). Older and more experienced (though less than she lets on), Chloé will slowly initiate Bastien into the transgressive thrills of teenage kicks – drinking, dancing, desire – while regaling him with questionable stories of a drowned boy who haunts the lake as a ghost.
Told mostly from Bastien’s perspective, with an accompanying aspect ratio of 1.37:1 to mark the relative narrowness of his ingenuous purview, Falcon Lake certainly tracks two teenagers’ rites of passage, and the relationship that develops between them – but there are also hints, from Chloé’s stories of drowning and ghosts to the posters for Psycho and Nosferatu decorating her bedroom’s walls, that something supernatural may be lurking beneath the surface of these natural settings in the Quebecois hinterlands, letting rippled intimations of mortality lap up against the vibrant, carefree joys of adolescence.
“We’re going for a swim, come for a dip at least,” Romain will tell Bastien near the beginning of Falcon Lake. Uncomfortable in water, Bastien declines – yet over the course of the film, in his eagerness to impress, he will venture further and further into the depths, far beyond his comfort zone, in what is a clear metaphor for coming of age. Indeed, when, at Chloé’s urging, Bastien wades out to a point where the water is starting to wash over his head, he is rewarded with a glimpse of her bared breasts, as though his aquatic and erotic journeys are unfolding in parallel, and with equal tentativeness. Bastien is breaking bounds, gaining confidence, gradually earning both the trust of Chloé and the respect of the older boys who frequent the area. In short, he is growing up – but as he tests these waters, his increasing confidence and exhilaration is always matched by a sense of danger.
Freely adapted from Bastien Vivès’ graphic novel Une soeur (2017), Le Bon’s feature captures that dreamy free dive from innocence to experience, and ultimately lets feeling triumph over reason, while striving, from its place at the liminal lakeshore, to imagine the infinite beyond. Smart and sensual, it is an impressive calling card.
strap: Charlotte Le Bon’s haunting debut feature captures a young boy and girl’s dreamy coming of age on the littoral edge of dangerous waters
© Anton Bitel