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  • Reviewed at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.

Charlotte Le Bon’s debut feature starts with a body floating in a lake. It’s Chloé (Sara Montpetit), a 16-year-old with a proclivity for morbid fantasy, a little like Harold from Harold and Maude (1971). Wrapped in a sheet, she enjoys enacting the legend of a swimmer who drowned in the lake and haunts its environs. The local boys are caught between mockery and attraction, but the arrival of nearly-14-year-old Bastien (Joseph Engel) gives her something like an acolyte. Not really regarded as mature by their parents, Bastien finds himself sharing her room along with his five-year-old brother Titi (Thomas Laperriere). 

Coming-of-age love stories – particularly with a younger boy looking up to an older girl who has eyes roaming elsewhere – may be abundant, but Le Bon has managed to create a film with its own particular flavour and atmosphere. From the mists on the lake to the sun beating down at the fields, nature itself seems to be bursting with hormones. At every turn, the characters surprise us with their choices and the way they relate to one another. Bastien is kind and playful with his little brother, rather than annoyed. He invents stories that keep Titi out of the way, but engage him also.

Chloé starts out as a moody teenager who hates her mother and has magic pixie girl eccentricities – but these trappings melt away to reveal a clever, uncertain girl who connects to her new friend. She is happy to be with Bastien and intrigued by him, recruiting him to play her ghost in the photos she takes of the lake and to accompany her as she pursues one of the older boys. Gawky Bastien has a sensibility closer to hers and anyway, she’s more of a child than she wants to admit and he’s more of an adult than his years suggest. In one superb scene, he accompanies Chloé to a party and when she’s dragged away to the dance floor by one of her older suitors you could imagine a lesser film letting him mope. But here he joins in and busts out some serious dance moves, winning the crowd over in the process.

Engel and Montpetit in Falcon Lake

Engel and Montpetit’s naturalism and charisma contribute hugely. Their depiction of a probing, uncertain but intense crush is heartfelt, funny and intimate – it’s the kind of all-consuming puppy love that imprints the ideal of love forever more, yet has the damp embarrassment of a first wet dream and the comedy of it too. Le Bon, with Karim Boucherka and François Choquet, adapted Bastien Vivès’s Brittany-set graphic novel A Sister, changing the setting to Canada and giving French-speaking Chloe and Bastien a further connection against the Anglophone older boys.

Alex Hercule Desjardins’ production design recreates a cluttered summer house of murals, books, jigsaws and musical instruments; Chloé’s bedroom mixes the paraphernalia of childhood with a Psycho poster. Kristof Brandl’s camera captures the too warm interiors and the weather on the lake in a home-movie-ish aspect and over-saturated colour; Shida Shahabi’s music gives off an eeriness that suggests the autumn that hides in summer. 

The final act delivers the first chills of disappointment in love, of alienation and of the coming change in seasons and maturation. The tonal shift is at once surprising and inevitable. Falcon Lake proves an incredibly strong debut. Young heartbreaking summer loving might be an old song but here it is sung in a new and beguiling way.

Sight and Sound, Summer 2022

Sight and Sound celebrates its 90th anniversary in style. Plus: the Cannes bulletin, Pedro Almodóvar, Ukrainian cinema, The Innocents and Edgar Wright interviewing Daniels.

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