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by Jay Seaver

"Teens have their reality smashed and drawn back together."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I suspect that there are bits of Blaise Harrison's coming-of-age film that I don't quite catch; aside from my having been such a lame asexual teen that I have trouble connecting with these movies as an adult to begin with, both the specific details of their environment and the fantastic events they encounter seem like they're saying something just out of my reach. That may be a good thing - there's a certain arrogance in thinking that the experience of youth is universal or easily mapped between generations and locations, even if there often is something to recognize.despite that.

In this one, I wonder a bit what the film taking place on a border might mean to its European audiences, as the characters live in the town that is home to the CERN Large Hadron Collider, which straddles both France and Switzerland: Does going to an apparent international school with both French and Swiss students make a kid more likely to feel like they don't fit in? It seems like it would, at least relative to other stories of European youth, but it's not something I was able to pick up as playing out here. What does having this thing which brings people from around the world in (and under) your backyard mean when it's not something you can really grasp?

Of course, all of that goes hand-in-hand with the strange effects Pierre-André "P.A." Jasson (Thomas Daloz) sees playing out around him, presumably from some experiment being conducted at the LHC. He's the sort of kid that often gets lost in the background in high school, taking an early bus because transit doesn't get to his part of town quite as often as it should, hanging out with folks like scruffy Mérou (Salvatore Ferro) and trying to get the attention Léa (Emma Josserand), though winding up spending more time with the ailing Roshine (Néa Lüders). It's all very ordinary until Mérou vanishes during a camping trip, something which could be foul play, him lighting out for somewhere else, or maybe something to do with the destruction of the building blocks of reality underneath their feet.

That unfathomable science which appears to have strange manifestations aboveground becomes a potent metaphor, something beyond P.A.'s teenage aimlessness that he can't yet grasp, something distorting reality itself. It's often on the periphery, and it would probably take another viewing and some mulling over to see how far Harrison is going with this - the final shot suggests things coming together and smashing into more basic pieces, which may be how young people feel these days, placed in situations out of their control to see what happens, although it doesn't necessarily fit the rest of the film. Maybe it's something simpler, like understanding the world is founded on unknowable mysteries but that moving ahead means trying to solve what you can anyway.

It's a tough thing to embody, but I like the way star Thomas Daloz manages it. P.A. is not an especially active, charismatic character, but Daloz and the filmmakers give him worth to go along with his doubt, a good heart even as confusion often results in pettiness. He plays well off Salvatore Ferro as a similar best friend - it's a character that would often be pushed to be flagrantly eccentric rather than just off and dealing with things his own way - and Néa Lüders winds up quite charming as the girl who starts off as his second choice but proves quite winning. They integrate well into the world Harrison gives them, not playing into stock teen tropes but showing a surprising charm when they threaten to become disaffected bores.

And, perhaps, that's a bit of what Harrison (who has made a pair of documentary shorts following someone from teenager to manhood) and co-writer Mariette Désert (who collaborated on another look at disaffected French youth in "Jessica Forever") are trying to get at: The next generation will always be dealing with a world full of advanced but banal science and seemingly inexplicable mysticism for which their parents who did not experience it can't prepare them, and not knowing is part of the challenge. It's definitely a film that I'd like to see at a better hour, and not just the fifth show in a very long day.

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originally posted: 06/07/20 11:49:18
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