The intense feelings, reckless experimentation and sheer obliviousness of adolescence are convincingly portrayed in slightly overlong “On Fire.” Portrait of the boredom, thrill-seeking and sexual confusion of youth unfolds in the workaday tedium of a village in Provence during the last week in June. Helmer Claire Simon’s docu background lends pic an immediacy that can’t be faked, although fire footage impresses more than most of the fictional elements. Kidfests aimed at adolescents will be particularly interested.
Lying on the road after her horse throws her, 15-year-old Livia (Camille Varenne) is tended to by Jean Susini (Gilbert Melki), a fireman at least three times her age. A considerate professional, Jean obviously has a calling for helping people.
Livia’s parents, who are British, are divorced. Her mother, who works at a retirement home, has a live-in female lover who’s French.
With conventional male role models in short supply, Livia develops an instant crush on Jean, conjuring lame but harmless excuses to see him. When her transparent ruses don’t get results from the happily married Jean, recently a father, Livia wonders if the way to attract a fireman is by playing with fire.
Simon’s eye for detail frequently impresses whether the camera is following Livia on horseback or recording a touchingly pragmatic make-out session between two girls and one guy. An otherwise old-fashioned scarecrow has shiny CDs dangling from its arms. But it’s the footage of a raging blaze that frightens and dazzles most.
Sound design, from the Mistral winds to ever-present chirping crickets, conveys the languor of sun-baked Provence to a T.