'Meteorites': Film Review | San Sebastian 2018

San Sebastian International Film Festival
Fresh flavors revive a familiar tale of summery sexual awakening.

Newcomer Zea Duprez stars in Romain Laguna's debut feature, a French drama premiering in the New Directors competition of the Spanish festival.

Romantic dreams crash to earth even harder than the eponymous space-rocks in Romain Laguna's Meteorites (Les météorites), one of the year's more promising French debuts. Built around an eye-catching turn from talented and attractive newcomer Zea Duprez as Nina, a 16-year-old girl experiencing her sexual awakening, it premiered in San Sebastian's New Directors competition and will find takers at similar showcases of emerging talent. A French domestic release is penciled in for January, when its sultry evocations of spectacular terrain in the country's far south may prove tempting for winter-chilled audiences.

Indeed, the rugged landscapes depicted by cinematographer Aurelien Marra — MVP among behind-the-camera participants — do their best to steal the show from a strong ensemble of non-professional newcomers skillfully assembled by three casting directors. Laguna selected a series of locales near his home city of Beziers which amply showcase the diversity and harsh, craggy beauty of the Herault and Aude districts.

Beziers lies less than 40 miles from the fishing port of Sete, familiar from several films by Abdellatif Kechiche, and in some regards Meteorites does feel like an apprentice's attempt to follow in the footsteps of an established master. In a similar vein, Laguna and his scriptwriting partner Salvatore Lista have chosen subject matter which has apparently long been "done to death" in cinematic terms: the delicately observed coming-of-age tale, specifically the my-summer-of-love subgenre. What's perhaps unusual this time is that the film is firmly and empathetically female-oriented, despite having been written and directed by men. It seems reasonable to surmise that a significant degree of collaboration with Duprez was involved in creating and developing the character of Nina. Living with her bohemian mother Karine (Rosy Bronner) and army-oriented brother Alex (Nathan Le Graciet) in a town-center flat, she always seems more content in the open air.

Mulling her future options, Nina takes a temporary summer job at Dinospace, a theme park in the nearby countryside focusing on dinosaurs and geological subjects. Her interest in such matters is sharpened when she observes a meteor flaming through the sky at dusk, landing in an inaccessible corner of the mountainous terrain. Laguna conjures up Nina's inner life via short fantasy and dream sequences, seeking to add nuance and dimension to a fiery but somewhat unremarkable modern French teenager.

These flourishes don't quite feel organically connected to the basic narrative, however, which proceeds from episode to episode with considerable brio thanks to Heloise Pelloquet's editing (it's her fourth feature). Marra, meanwhile, has honed his craft on more than a dozen shorts over the last six years, winning an award for 2014's Requiem for My Father, and this is an auspicious transition to the bigger canvas.

Crucial in Nina's passage to adulthood is her unpredictable, on-off relationship with Morad (Bilal Agab), the 19-year-old brother of her co-worker Djamila (Oumaima Lyamouri). Trendily coiffed and tattooed, the scooter-riding Morad is fresh from two years in juvenile detention, but Nina is able to see past his "bad-boy" exterior — and ignore the warnings of both Djamila and Alex — and seems to fall for him pretty much at first sight.

Predictably enough, things don't work out well: Nina loses first her job after an altercation with a cheeky young visitor, and then her boyfriend when Morad abruptly heads back to his parents' native Algeria. Her woes are then compounded by a pregnancy scare that adds a note of suspense and tension to the second half of the movie.

While it ends messily, the high sensual peaks of Nina and Morad's brief liaison are, we sense, sufficiently vivid to be imprinted on her memory forever: There's a particularly lovely sequence in which the pair ride on Morad's scooter through a tunnel after a soaking rainstorm. But Meteorites had already swaggeringly asserted itself from the very first shot, a prowlingly slow forward track towards a yellow bridge, with the verdant countryside buffeted by strong winds. From here on in, it's apparent that we're in confident, assured hands: The 4:3 framing (emphasizing the height of the mountains), the intense clarity of the images, the atmospheric sound design and the choice of specific geographical features are the work of individuals with talent and signs of genuine flair.

Production company: Les Films du Clan
Cast: Zea Duprez, Bilal Agab, Oumaima Lyamouri, Nathan Le Graciet, Rosy Bronner
Director: Romain Laguna
Screenwriters: Romain Laguna, Salvatore Lista
Producers: Charles Philippe, Lucile Ric
Cinematographer: Aurelien Marra
Production designer: Guillaume Landron
Costume designer: Laetitia Pommier
Editor: Heloise Pelloquet
Composer: Maxence Dussere
Casting directors: Anne Belliard, Romain Silvi, Pierre Glemet
Venue: San Sebastian International Film Festival (New Directors)
Sales: Indie Sales, Paris (info@indiesales.eu)

In French (some Arabic)
85 minutes