What could have been a controversial and challenging examination of inter-generational love in “Clement” becomes merely a hopelessly self-indulgent, over-extended example of the microscopically chronicled amour fou tracts of which French filmmakers never seem to tire. All surface texture and little depth, this digitally shot production about a passionate affair between a 30-year-old woman and a boy of 13 is exceedingly narrow in focus, failing in both the script and in writer-director Emmanuelle Bercot’s lead performance to shed sufficient light on the woman’s motivations. Prospects beyond festivals appear limited.
At nearly two-and-a-half hours, the relationship feels almost like it’s taking place in real time. Story starts from the first encounter between Marion (Bercot) and adolescent Clement (Olivier Gueritee) during a visit to the coast, then continues via too many repetitive scenes back in Paris and in weekend seaside trips through to the affair’s protracted dissolution.
While hanging out with her slightly infatuated godson Benoit (Kevin Goffette) and his pals, Marion gets involved in frank sexual discussions and rough-and-tumble physical games that provide the first frisson of contact with Clement. The boy’s provocative, disconcertingly direct manner soon gets under her skin. Clearly drawn to him, Marion begins more and more to show signs of impulsive, typically teenage behavior, eventually getting cozy and kissing Clement on the beach one night.
Returning to Paris, the bond intensifies as they begin to spend time together. Their awkward first night comes during a weekend away, with Clement’s composure giving way to fear as he continually delays the bedtime step. But having fallen into each other’s obsessive grip, the relationship continues despite Marion’s attempts to pull back. They make love for the first time in her apartment in a scene shot in glaring white light that underlines the differences in weight and body shape between the tall, robust woman and slender, unformed boy.
When Clement shows at Marion’s place one night saying he’s left home and wants to live wih her, she reasons with him to be rational and return to his parents. He interprets her hesitation as rejection, placing an irrepairable distance between them. As that distance widens, Clement becomes more cold and dismissive with her while Marion grows desperate and needy, slipping into increasingly undignified, pathetic behavior.
Perhaps the drama’s most successful aspect is the way it conveys the capacity of youth to form intense, all-consuming sudden passions and then shut them off just as suddenly with resolute finality. But aside from some scenes in which Benoit’s suspicions prompt hostility, the film’s gaze rarely extends beyond the dynamic of the central duo to look at conflicts outside the relationship, thus limiting its scope and denying it any kind of political edge. And while there’s a certain courage inherent in the basic premise, Bercot’s strategic shooting of Clement’s body, largely avoiding displays of nakedness, makes the sexual component much less confronting than it could have been.
What keeps it compelling to some degree is inexperienced actor Gueritee’s impressive performance, full of small, subtle gestures and glances that balance boyish attitude with cool adult intensity. Bercot, in contrast, makes Marion bland, uninteresting and relatively opaque, with her center-screen placement throughout suggesting a vanity-project element. While shooting on digital video allows d.p. Crystel Fournier to probe the subjects more intimately, night scenes are frequently underlit and the restless, darting handheld shooting style becomes visually tiring at times.