The death of a Parisian girl’s mother drives the numbed teen to explore her dark side in first-time French helmer Rebecca Zlotowski’s uneven drama “Belle epine.” Unfolding with the disjointed logic of a bad dream, the pic never catches emotional fire — though not for lack of trying by fast-rising young star Lea Seydoux, who shows her range in a defiantly unglamorous performance. Likely to find more critical than popular support, item will reach more viewers in ancillary.
First shown as she’s strip-searched for shoplifting, schoolgirl Prudence Friedmann (Seydoux) seeks out fellow offender Maryline (Agathe Schlenker), who introduces her to the illegal motorbike race circuit at Rungis. Apart from the fact that Prudence is lonely (her father’s out of the country and her older sister has ankled her custodial responsibilities), it’s not completely clear why she is attracted to these leather-wearing lower class youths who gun their engines and talk endlessly of bike parts and oil spills, except that they, too, go a little too far.
The Rungis scene registers in stark contrast to Prudence’s Jewish bourgeois background, embodied by her friend Sonia (Anais Demoustier) and the rest of the Cohen family. But in a trance-like abandonment of who she is and where she comes from, Prudence allows her new acquaintances to wreck the Friedmann apartment and even sleeps with Franck (Johan Libereau), a rough lad who guts fish for a living, until another tragedy finally wakes her to her loss and her emotions.
An uneasy mix of subject matter that avoids introspection, the screenplay by Zlotowski and Gaelle Mace has the prickly feeling of unprocessed material brought out in therapy. This sensation of a past nightmare recalled is furthered by the production design’s lack of specific historic or geographic references, as well as pic’s many nighttime scenes.
On the plus side, however, Seydoux (appearing in three Cannes official selection titles) shows the goods that make her among France’s most sought-after young actresses, and strong craft credits exert an almost hypnotic spell.
Shooting in widescreen, vet lenser George Lechaptois manages both a gritty look and an impressionistic feel, while the resonant music by Rob provides the closest thing to an emotional hook.