The mesmerizing “Illumination” establishes first-time feature maker Pascale Breton as a stunningly original talent. Its dogged focus on one seemingly disturbed young man’s rites of passage may prove challenging to impatient auds, but the intense, get-under-your-skin perf by newcomer Clet Beyer more than justifies the time spent with him. Pic pays off on all levels without telegraphing its vast ambitions. Ideal fest fare also sheds light on young French generation whose troubled lovers are far afield from the romantic comedies of the fabled past.
Blue-eyed Beyer plays Ildutt, an introspective, early-20s type still living with his rough-hewn parents (Catherine Hosmalin, Herve Furic) on the quietly ominous coast of Britanny, lensed with gritty physicality by Philippe Elusse. Ildutt works part-time as a fisherman, although he’s ill-suited to the work — he has a tendency to throw fish back when he sees they’re still alive — and he has no interest in after-work camaraderie with hard-drinking peers.
His brusqueness and tendency toward erratic behavior mark him as an oddball, and he is sent to a sympathetic shrink (Kamel Abdeli). The lank-haired lad refuses to be medicated, however, and soon runs off, selling his bass guitar to fund a hitchhiking trip to parts, and mental places, unknown.
In secondary scenes of the vaguely defined chronology, Ildutt is seen wandering in the Scottish Highlands, where he appears to have lost his bearings. He sinks into silence on his return to France’s rugged north, but something snaps the first time he spies his kind grandmother (Albertine Dagand) — who cryptically claims to have raised the lad herself — being tended by a pretty, outgoing home nurse called Christina (the very appealing Melanie Le Ray).
Suddenly, he has a reason to live, and his obsession with the young woman — with whom he has never even talked — borders on the fanatical. Essentially, this is motivation to get his act together in a series of picaresque adventures that include, most amusingly, a smarmy guru (Jean-Jacques Vanier) who gives him a number of rectifying tasks.
Wide-traveling, multi-layered tale earns two-hour-plus length, although at that running time, auds could perhaps come away understanding a bit more about protag’s rocky relationship with his parents, who remain sketchy figures. Still, Breton makes it clear that she’s not interested in conventional back-story setups. Like a far more naturalistic Lars von Trier, she allows the characters to be wholly unique while projecting emblematic status on them.
She also makes compelling use of gritty, little-seen landscapes and sounds of nature, integrated with unpredictable music emphasizing stark electric guitars. Previously best known as co-scripter of 2001’s thriller “Replay,” Breton makes the thorny case that much of what we call crazy is an exaggerated version of what many sensitive young people go through on their difficult path to growing up. Pic’s uplifting coda suggests that this one, at least, is going to make it.