“Lovers” is the well-acted, affecting story of a handsome 15-year-old who looks to his adventurous older sister for guidance but finally takes charge of his own life. Unflattering but vivid portrait of small-minded, small-town life shifts gears to deliver narrative punch toward end. Fests should bite.
After eight years away, gleefully promiscuous twentysomething Vivien (engaging Nathalie Richard) returns to her Podunk hometown in northern France. She excels at twisting men around her little finger, and her adoring half-brother, Marc (Pascal Cervo), watches with awe, then with growing consternation, as sis repeatedly sells herself short.
Model student Marc becomes a less dutiful son under Vivien’s tutelage, which veers close to incest. In a skillfully handled swing of the pendulum, Vivien settles down as increasingly self-possessed Marc branches out in search of non-vicarious thrills.
Newcomer Cervo gives a strong, nuanced perf as Marc, investing his metamorphosis with layers of yearning and an unstudied adolescent grace. Richard shines in the spunky, tailor-made role of Vivien. Isabelle Nanty is a standout in a bit as her party-girl friend, and Olaf Lubazenko is sweet as the illegal immigrant whose respectful approach throws Vivien for a loop.
Milieu is neatly nailed in a giddy-cum-queasy scene of provincial types eating mussels and French fries with drunken abandon while a mediocre band provides entertainment.
Director and co-scripter Catherine Corsini’s pic is resoundingly French in approach and decor, but the tale of putative misfits whose needs outstrip local mentalities has universal resonance.