Small in scale, but beautifully written, extremely well-played and sensually lensed.

Small in scale but beautifully written, extremely well-played and sensually lensed, “Love Like Poison,” from first-time French helmer Katell Quillevere, centers on a middle-class 14-year-old in the Breton countryside about to celebrate her confirmation in the Catholic church. Winner of the 2010 Jean Vigo prize, this naturalistic coming-of-ager encompasses the cycle of life from adolescence through infirmity, confirming the ongoing demands of the flesh and the way they frequently conflict with religious faith. Kudos, strong reviews and name adult cast will draw auds in French-lingo territories with extended life in ancillary. Quality fest item could find niche distribution offshore.

When Anna (newcomer Clara Augarde) arrives at the remote village home of her ailing grandfather (Michel Galabru) during spring break from her Catholic boarding school, she finds her father (Thierry Neuvic) has finally left her devout mother (Lio). While her mother seeks consolation from local priest Father Francois (Stefano Cassetti), Anna cares for her earthy grandfather and explores her budding sexuality with neighboring teen Pierre (Youen Leboulanger-Gourvil).

After a trio of short films, Quillevere appears an assured director of actors, achieving an impressive credibility in both familial heart-to-hearts and scenes of teens on their own. Although her depiction of the relationship between the mother and the priest occasionally feels a little heavy-handed, she makes sure the pic underscores the theme of contradictory impulses between one’s imposed education and inherent instincts.

Obviously a personal story, the prize-winning script by Quillevere and Mariette Desert opposes Anna’s youth and beauty with her mother’s jealousy over the loss of same and her bon vivant grandfather’s last stirrings of physical pleasure. Anna’s wrestling with her faith is mirrored by Father Francois’s own struggle, while the protag’s essential innocence and the provincial setting offers a refreshing change from the current spate of pics about promiscuous, disaffected urban teens.

As Anna, curvaceous redhead Augarde reps a true find. With her lively intelligence, malleable features and sexy figure, she can look forward to a long career. Meanwhile, octogenarian comic actor Galabru steals every scene he’s in, bringing an affecting poignancy to a man who has lived life to the fullest but now faces death. In smaller parts, the rest of the adult cast acquit themselves strongly.

Standing out among solid craft credits, the lush location camerawork of Tom Harari fluidly shifts between handheld and dolly work. The well-chosen music track, including hymns and American folktunes, anchors the pic’s mood of melancholy and rapture.

French title refers to a Serge Gainsbourg song, though sales agents may want to find a more resonant, less forbidding English moniker.

Love Like Poison

France

Production

A Sophie Dulac Distribution release (in France) of a Les Films du Belier production, in co-production with Arte France Cinema, with the participation of Canal Plus, support of Cine Cinema, Region Bretagne, Region des Pays de la Loire, Conseil General du Finistere, Centre Images -- Region Centre, Fondation Groupama Gan pour le cinema, Procirep, Angoa-Agicoa, in association with Banque Postale Image 3, Cineimage 4. (International sales: Films Distribution, Paris.) Produced by Justin Taurand. Directed by Katell Quillevere. Screenplay, Quillevere, Mariette Desert.

Crew

Camera (color), Tom Harari; editor, Thomas Marchand; music, Olivier Mellano; music consultant, Frank Beauvais; set designer, Anna Falgueres; costume designer, Mahemiti Deregnaucourt; sound (Dolby Digital), Emmanuel Croset; line producer, Mathieu Verhaeghe; casting, Sarah Teper, Leila Fournier, Francois Guignard. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 14, 2010. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Clara Augarde, Lio, Michel Galabru, Stefano Cassetti, Thierry Neuvic, Youen Leboulanger-Gourvil.

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