Asplashy, stylish debut feature shot with the bored cynicism of a young director who already knows it all, "Marie baie des anges" remains a meaningless, unappealing film despite its brilliant, memorable images. Helmer Manuel Pradal's talent will, one hopes, be better served in future work, for which current pic may be considered a stylistic warm-up. Though its racy gloss and outbursts of violence may earn it some fast sells, word of mouth is not likely to be good on this all-image, no-story effort.

Asplashy, stylish debut feature shot with the bored cynicism of a young director who already knows it all, “Marie baie des anges” remains a meaningless, unappealing film despite its brilliant, memorable images. Helmer Manuel Pradal’s talent will, one hopes, be better served in future work, for which current pic may be considered a stylistic warm-up. Though its racy gloss and outbursts of violence may earn it some fast sells, word of mouth is not likely to be good on this all-image, no-story effort.

Setting is a dreamlike, nonexistent Mediterranean landscape, where summer vacationers rub shoulders with sailors from an American naval base who tool around in 1960s Caddies and tap-dance through the mess hall. Marie (Vahina Bronchain), a pouty 14-year-old who’s clearly been around, flirts with the sailors all summer and probably sleeps with several (though the underage sex is conveniently glossed over). She’s really attracted to the outsider Orso (Frederic Malgras), a ferocious boy her own age with an enormous chip on his shoulder and the money (stolen from Amira Casar’s glamour villa) to buy a gun. They run away together to a paradisiacal islanduntil their love story ends swiftly, violently and senselessly.

References to French cinema fly like red-white-and-blue flags all through the film, beginning with a title that harks back to Jacques Demy’s 1962 Jeanne Moreau starrer, “La baie des anges.” Trying very hard to convey the sex appeal of a baby Brigitte Bardot, Bronchain comes off as a sluttish, spoiled Lolita. Malgras, coifed like the cropped-hair rebel from “The 400 Blows,” is opaque and scary, particularly when he is aiming a gun at the tousled blond head of his best friend. At no point is the audience invited to care about their fate even slightly.

Though Pradal’s characters are a turnoff, his images are strongly appealing, sensually captured by cinematographer Christophe Pollock’s widescreen lens. The glittering turquoise sea, the uncovered flesh on the beach, the sailors in their theatrically white uniforms and, especially, Marie’s fetishized child-to-woman body, become photographic icons out of a dream, an effect Pradal likes to underline by turning up Carlo Crivelli’s violin score full blast. Even more of a teenage dream is the fact that parents are never seen or mentioned in the film.

Marie Baie Des Anges

(FRENCH)

Production

A Polygram Film Distribution release (in France) of a Les Films de la Suane production in association with Studio Image 2/La Sept Cinema/Lelia Films/Les Films des Tournelles. (International sales: Flach Pyramide Intl.) Produced by Philippe Rousselet. Executive producer, Pascal Judelewicz. Directed, written by Manuel Pradal. Camera (color, widescreen), Christophe Pollock; editor, Valerie Deseine; music, Carlo Crivelli; art direction, Javier Po, Veronique Mellery; costumes, Claire Gerard-Hime; sound (Dolby SR), Gita Serveira. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Critics Week), Aug. 31, 1997. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Marie ..... Vahina Bronchain Orso ..... Frederic Malgras Villa Owner ..... Amira Casar Larry ..... David Kilner Jim ..... Jamie Harris Ardito ..... Frederic Westerman Goran ..... Nicolas Welbers Jurec ..... Swan Carpio
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