A young man’s return after an extended absence at college to the farm in southwest France where he grew up serves as a mechanism for melancholy reflection on the steady disappearance of traditional rural lifestyles in “Boyhood Loves.” Graduating to features after a number of much-praised shorts, writer-director Yves Caumon perhaps embraces his cue of countryside quietude a little too eagerly in shaping the drama’s placid tone and unhurried rhythm, resulting in a film that no doubt will be too leisurely and uneventful for wide consumption. But its elegiac quality and warmly sketched characters should ensure festival bookings.
Continuing a recently revived tradition of French cinema exploring pastoral settings and themes, Caumon’s debut conveys a rich feel for the land, clearly intensified by the director’s origins in the same region where the story takes place.
Summoned back home by his mother (Michele Gary) due to the rapidly declining condition of his cancer-stricken father (Roger Souza), Paul (Mathieu Amalric) first becomes aware of the changes that have taken place when an old friend grown rich through property development proudly indicates the trail of box-like, characterless houses sprouting like mushrooms across the former farmland.
While Paul reconnects effortlessly with his doting mother, he approaches reacquaintance with his father somewhat more cautiously, suggesting conflict over his decision to flee to the city. But despite initial plans for a brief stay, Paul quickly becomes reimmersed in country life, relieving his emotionally and physically fatigued mother of much of the farmwork. He soon decides to stay on, spending afternoons hunting with his childhood best friend Thierry (Fabrice Cals).
Initially, Paul fights his attraction to Thierry’s girlfriend Odile (Lauryl Brossier), to whom he confesses regret about the things he left behind. The younger sister of Paul’s boyhood flame, who has now moved away to start a family, Odile fans the romantic frisson between them by revealing the crush she had on Paul as a child. Their resulting tryst creates a rift with Thierry, who responds with misdirected violence in a disturbing hunting scene.
Paul begins to resign himself to the impossibility of keeping the farm running after his father’s death. When that eventuality happens, his mother adjusts to new circumstances with saddening pragmatism, while Paul is forced to stop investing in the past.
Accompanied only by occasional use of Thierry Machuel’s spare, simple piano and clarinet music, the drama is overly deliberate in its pacing but poignant and touching in a detached way that’s not manipulative. In addition to the cast’s restrained, unaffected performances, Caumon owes much to the warm colors and soft natural light of Julien Hirsch’s lensing in establishing the film’s gentle but persuasive mood, and to the unmanicured landscapes and expansive skies.