A tomboy entering womanhood can’t see the forest for the trees in Stephan Carpiaux’s handsome but fractured debut, “Red Ants.” Set within Belgium’s Ardennes woods, the pic more than holds together when focusing on its protag’s relationship with her father and peers, but an underscripted side plot involving a nerdy neighbor and his tyrannical aunt fails to add depth. Attractive lensing and Deborah Francois’ magnetic perf make it worth a look, though even local play is unlikely to make noise.
Recent widower Franck (Frederic Pierrot) wallows in a depression so profound he requires daughter Alex (Francois, convincingly playing 16) to hold him and his gas station together. Family grief plus burgeoning sexuality is a heavy load to carry; plus she’s having nightmares about red ants, “incapable of following any path but a predetermined one.” Inexplicably, Alex works afternoons as a companion for domineering Irene (Claire Johnston), whose socially inept nephew Hector (Arthur Jugnot) needs Alex’s help to enter his delayed post-teen phase. Striking scenes, such as one in which Alex dances alone while Franck looks on, are let down by Carpiaux’s inability to trust core truths to carry the drama.