The strangely contemplative opening frames of “Falcon Lake” depict an idyllic lake on a summer night, a scene so quietly daunting you just know something must be wrong. The shot remains unchanged for so long that when a body finally emerges from the water, it feels more like an inevitable moment of catharsis than a scare. That brooding serenity continues in “Falcon Lake,” but the truly startling first moment in Charlotte Le Bon’s directorial debut is the sight of a Nintendo Switch.
Thanks to Le Bon’s dreamlike pacing and Kristof Brandl’s grainy cinematography, the film’s opening scenes of a nuclear family setting off on a lake house vacation come across as a long-buried memory unfolding before our eyes. The key shots would be a perfect fit for an ABC-era “Twin Peaks” episode, and the fashion could be plucked straight from a mid-’90s Vineyard Vines catalog. The effect is so compelling that a brief mention of a contemporary video game console becomes an almost Brechtian revelation that we’re watching something unfold in our own world. That brilliant directorial choice sucks us into the same predicament its characters can’t avoid: We’re always tempted to drift into nostalgia despite the pain of the real world that keeps being shoved in our faces.
Falcon Lake is allegedly haunted by a ghost and undeniably haunted by secret desires. Thirteen-year-old Bastien (Joseph Engel) is starting to rage on hormones, and his parents are filled with their own desire for extramarital affairs as they head off to spend the summer at their friends’ cabin. Bastien’s eyes are on Chloe (Sara Montpetit), the spunky 16-year-old daughter of family friends who isn’t exactly keen on sharing her quarters with two kids for the summer. She’s far more interested in enjoying Falcon Lake’s social scene, which typically revolves around stealing her father’s homemade wine and drinking with the boys around the campfires.
She is often burdened with babysitting duties – presumably so her parents can fuck Bastien’s parents – but manages to amuse herself by frightening Bastien and his younger brother with stories about the ghost who lives in the lake. As he gets older, she starts introducing him to alcohol and drugs. A friendship based on proximity quickly begins to form, if only because they both need someone to drink with. But it evolves into a more serious mentor-pupil relationship as she teaches him about overcoming hangovers, house parties, and eventually, female anatomy.
Like any great age difference movie, ‘Falcon Lake’ finds the drama in the gray areas of the forbidden relationship between the two teenagers. Neither Bastien nor Chloe have ever lost the fact that they lust after her and she’s just killing time with him. There are occasional moments when her passion and her boredom align in a way that gives both of them what they want, but the gap in her enthusiasm is evident when he watches her chase after boys she’s very fond of. more interested. Even the film’s salacious moments are imbued with a sense of melancholy, as it becomes clear that we are watching the best moments of a story doomed to end badly.
Yet we keep watching, thanks in large part to the deeply human performances of Engel and Montpetit. Her discreet maturity gives the impression that her soul is much older than 13 years, which juxtaposes delightfully with her unabashed ignorance of adult activities. And she’s the perfect embodiment of a teenager who has become so bored with her daily grind that she’s willing to dip her toes into forbidden taboos just to break the monotony.
It is truly surprising that “Falcon Lake” is the work of a first-time director. Le Bon demonstrates a masterful understanding of composition and the rhythm of shots that allow her to create an eerie atmosphere without turning it into a gimmick. The promise that “Falcon Lake” will turn into a genre film is always lurking around the corner, but we spend most of the time watching a perverse love child of “Licorice Pizza” and “Call Me By Your Name “. Bastien and Chloe demonstrate the kind of “more than a friendship, not quite a romance” connection that will be instantly recognizable to anyone who took part in an ephemeral summer fling. Much like the alleged Falcon Lake ghost, it almost doesn’t matter if the romantic connection was ever real, because the emotions it evoked are there to stay.
“Falcon Lake” premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. The film is now playing in theaters selected by Yellow Veil Pictures.