Lost Paradise: Film Review

Portrayal of rural adolescence stronger on atmosphere than plot 

Eve Deboise's rites of passage movie is sow-moving and demanding and lacking stars its commercial prospects are dubious.

Eve Deboise's rites of passage movie Lost Paradise, set in the lush greenery of southern France, is stronger on atmosphere than on plot but has enough going for it as a debut feature to make an impression on the festival and arthouse circuit. It is slow-moving and demanding, however, and lacking stars its commercial prospects are dubious.

Somewhere in the midi (the precise location is never made clear), Lucie (Pauline Etienne) is studying for her exams while helping her father Hugo (Olivier Rabourdin), a self-employed market gardener, around the farm. She's an adolescent, serious-minded, and like her father is sparing with words. There's no sign of her mother, and this aspect of her life is for the moment a mystery.

The scene is idyllic - the sun shines down, the water in the stream where they bathe naked sparkles and gurgles. Lucie's relations with her father are close. At times, you may feel, just a little too close. Then Sonia (Florence Thomassin), her mother, turns up unexpectedly and the film abruptly changes register, becoming the story of a sequestration - angered by her having walked out on him to live with another man, Hugo locks Sonia up in a tool-shed.

Lucie meanwhile is exploring her sensuality. A young farm-worker, Akim (Ouassini Embarek), enters the plot, discovering Sonia's situation but refraining from releasing her or telling anyone else about her, and later becoming a focus for Lucie's attentions.

Deboise has an excellent track record as a screenwriter, having worked for Maria de Madeiros and the Franco-Cambodian director Rithy Panh among others. Here however she is more interested in capturing the texture of rural life - the sights and sounds of the countryside - and the script suffers accordingly. The story elements appear cobbled together, the ending feels tacked on arbitrarily and the resolution is facile and unoriginal.

Against this, the movie is effective in conveying the claustrophobia that can come with living in a remote agricultural community. Lucie's development as a young woman and the burgeoning of her senses are related to the vitality of the nature around her, and the portrayal of powerful, sometimes dangerous, underlying passions, notably the temptation to father-daughter incest, in an Edenic setting is artfully done. With its frequent ellipses the film is occasionally hard going but as an addition to the well-stocked repertoire of debut features recounting the pleasures and pains of rural youth it passes muster. 

Release date: July 4, 2012
Production companies: Blue Monday Productions, Fontana
Cast: Pauline Etienne, Olivier Rabourdin, Florence Thomassin, Ouassini Embarek
Director: Eve Deboise
Writers: Eve Deboise, Nadine Lamari
Photography: Pascal Auffray
Producers: Pascal Metge, Nathalie Mesuret
Production design: Brigitte Brassart
Editor: Lise Beaulieu
Sales: Epicentre Films
No MPAA rating
Running time: 93 minutes.