Love Like Poison – review


Love Like Poison (2010, dir. Katell Quillévéré)

#52FILMSBYWOMEN is a campaign launched by Women In Film in an attempt to raise awareness of female filmmakers. Their initiative asks cinephiles to watch a female-directed film once a week for an entire year, and in this series I will document the films I watched as a part of this pledge.

Taking its title from a Serge Gainsbourg song, Katell Quillévéré’s amiable if slight debut feature is a beguiling French coming-of-age drama about a young adolescent struggling with her fractured family, her blossoming sexuality and Catholic guilt.

When 14-year-old Anna (Clara Augarde) returns home from boarding school, she finds her house in disarray. Her parents have split and her father has gone, leaving her mother Jeanne (Belgian singer Lio) alone with Anna’s bedridden grandfather Jean (Michel Galabru). She nervously awaits her upcoming confirmation at the local church, but her faith appears to be dwindling and her sexual impulses are burgeoning. Her physical maturity catches the eyes of those around her, including a local choirboy (Youen Leboulanger-Gourvil) who takes a strong fancy to her. His advances are initially forceful, perhaps inappropriately so, but Anna eventually relents and this soon develops into a sweet, tentative romance, highlighted by a scene in which the boy awkwardly serenades her on guitar.

Meanwhile, Anna’s mother is dealing with her own personal problems. With her husband running off with another woman, Jeanne has become depressive and seeks comfort in the friendly neighbourhood priest, Père (Stefano Cassetti). Household tensions are offset by the cheeky ailing grandfather who, despite closely reaching his deathbed, shows a lot more joy than the rest. In one scene, Anna innocently washes his back, inadvertently stimulating Jean. When she notices his erection through his trousers, he unashamedly remarks: “I feel handsome.”

Though it arguably lacks distinction, Love Like Poison presents a tender, graceful portrait of adolescent life within a close-knit community. Newcomer Augarde is shrewdly cast as the wide-eyed Anna. She’s moody, irritable but somewhat vulnerable and in a constant state of conflicting perplexity, perfectly capturing the trials and tribulations of teenage angst. Quillévéré handles the narrative with complete ease, never straying from its gentle pacing and without descending into full-blown melodrama. It may not be a revelatory film, but it’s affecting for its relatively short running time.

Rating: ★★★☆☆


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