Love like Poison -- Film Review

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PARIS -- Screened last May at Cannes in the Directors Fortnight, Katell Quillevere's debut feature "Love Like Poison" about a pre-adolescent's struggles with the competing demands of faith and the flesh won modest critical acclaim and a best screenplay prize. Worthy rather than accomplished, the movie lacks stars and a strong storyline so is unlikely to make much headway at the boxoffice. The arthouse circuit beckons.

Newcomer Clara Augarde impresses as the 14-year-old Anna who returns home from boarding school preparing to be confirmed into the Catholic faith. She discovers that her parents have split up, leaving her mother Jeanne (Lio) looking after her dying grandfather Jean (Michel Galabru).

A pre-title sequence marks out the terrain: as the faithful at the regular Sunday service queue up to receive the host, Jeanne has eyes only for the handsome young priest Father Francois (Stefano Cassetti) while Anna is similarly distracted by the unabashed interest being displayed by a cheerful choirboy, Pierre (Youen Leboulanger-Gourvil).

As the effects of puberty assail her and she experiences her first pangs of doubt, Anna finds an ally in her grandfather who will have none of the ambient religiosity. Her father Paul (Thierry Neuvic) returns briefly to raise the emotional stakes. Pierre, after an initial failure, succeeds in winning her first kiss. Meanwhile Father Francois has his own sexual issues.

A mosaic of relationships of this kind would normally provide scope for plenty of action, but in fact not a lot happens. Quillevere does not appear to be interested in psychology and none of the potential storylines is developed significantly.

The central theme is clearly delineated and the director's position -- sensuality is good for you -- is not in doubt (though hardly original). Anna's default strategy at times of crisis is to faint -- she does so twice in the course of the action -- and while she is engaging enough as a protagonist, the resolution she displays at the movie's conclusion appears arbitrary.

"Poison" -- the title is taken from a Serge Gainsbourg song -- scores with its attention to visual detail. The script offers Galabru a nice line in crusty anti-clericalism while set pieces such as the confirmation ceremony at which the bishop sounds an ominous warning against the perils of the flesh are impressively handled.

Released in France Aug. 4
Production credits: Les Films du Belier, Arte France Cinema
Cast: Clara Augarde, Lio, Michel Galabru, Stefano Cassetti, Thierry Neuvic, Youen Leboulanger-Gourvil
Director: Katell Quillevere
Writers: Katell Quillevere, Mariette Desert
Producer: Justin Taurand
Director of photography: Tom Harari
Production design: Anna Falgueres
Editor: Thomas Marchand
Sales: Films Distribution
No rating, 92 minutes
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