A troubled teenage girl causes the death of a guy she's robbing and then befriends his widow in Sebastien Rose's well-crafted but narratively flawed "Before My Heart Falls."

A troubled teenage girl causes the death of a guy she’s robbing and then befriends his widow in Sebastien Rose’s well-crafted but narratively flawed “Before My Heart Falls.” Notwithstanding the intriguing subject and committed perfs, there’s one major stumbling block: believability. Perhaps it’s because Rose makes the characters so real that the implausibility of their actions grates so much, causing viewers to question behavior when they should be extending emotional investment. As with past films, the helmer-scripter skillfully negotiates the pitfalls of intimacy, and the eye never wanders, but it’s unlikely the pic will generate much buzz outside scattered fest appearances.

Sarah (newcomer Clemence Dufresne-Deslieres) and Louis (Etienne Laforge) spend their days scamming Good Samaritans by staging altercations along the roadside; when passing drivers stop to “rescue” Sarah, she snatches their things and flees. They have a vaguely “Oliver Twist”-ian situation, living with Fagin-like figure Ji-Guy (Sebastien Ricard), who takes their earnings and reports to an unseen, dangerous figure. Some screw-up by Sarah has left them in major debt to the boss, and the pressure is on to stage a more significant heist so they can pay back what they owe.

Sarah’s disregard for such things as respect or selflessness gets a shakeup when she threatens high-school teacher Marc (Alexis Martin) with a switchblade and he dies following respiratory arrest. His image starts to haunt her, and as a means of expiation, she tracks down Marc’s widow, Francoise (Sophie Lorain), and returns his wallet, claiming she found it along the freeway. Though initially wary, Francoise, strung out from grief, allows this intrusive 16-year-old into her life.

“Why?” is the big question many will be asking. Francoise is a self-assured, strong-minded woman who’s undeniably emotionally wounded, but why allow a very suspicious friendship with a mendacious teenager? It’s stated she doesn’t get on with her sister, but has she no friends? Also troubling later on is the way Ji-Guy turns psychotic after a break-in goes wrong. When did he go from vaguely threatening to completely screwy?

Fortunately, Lorain’s exquisitely realized performance rivets attention and temporarily suspends all questions. Dufresne-Deslieres is strong as Sarah, nailing the braggadocio and the insecurity, but Lorain’s Francoise is the creation of an actress at the top of her game, corralling flintiness with emotional nihilism. With body language conveying physical toughness at breaking point, and line deliveries that throw up walls of dubious solidity, she seduces auds into almost believing the relationship between these two wounded people. Almost.

Rose’s usual d.p., Nicolas Bolduc (“War Witch”), matches the uncertainty of the characters with the slightly unsettled handheld lensing of the new realism school, maintaining a sharply observational eye. Marjorie Rheaume’s art direction in Francoise’s house is spot-on, with its unrepaired porch and the kind of haphazard interior disarray reflecting the owner’s recent trauma.

Before My Heart Falls

Canada

Production

A Metropole Films release of a Reprise Films production. Produced by Paul Barbeau. Directed by Sebastien Rose. Screenplay, Stefanie Lasnier, Rose.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Nicolas Bolduc; editor, Philippe Melancon; production designer, Marjorie Rheaume; costume designer, Patricia McNeil; sound, Gilles Corbeil; assistant director, Eric Parenteau; casting, Nathalie Boutrie. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Spectrum), Jan. 28, 2013. (Also in Berlin Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Clemence Dufresne-Deslieres, Sophie Lorain, Sebastien Ricard, Alexis Martin, Etienne Laforge. (French dialogue)
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