It’s Montreal. It’s the summer you turned 18 and first fell in love. It was just a couple of weeks before you were due to move away, do you remember? Pascal Plante’s feature debut is a spry little rock-‘n’-roll romance so deliciously immediate that though you were likely never a tangle-headed, aspiring Quebecois tattoo artist in a Dead Kennedys tee it feels addressed to you in the second person. There’s nothing new under the Canadian sun that dapples and splashes “Fake Tattoos” in light and color, just like there’s nothing new about attractive young people falling in love. Doesn’t mean it ever gets old.
Initially, Theo (Anthony Therrien) might be nothing but a scowl atop a punk-band T-shirt, concealed in a froth of dark hair that looks like a map of chaos. And he’s a sort of imposter, but only the way we all are at that age, affecting attitudes we haven’t quite earned, trying on world views like they’re leather pants and wondering if we can pull off the look. But there’s something genuine and un-poser-y in Theo’s aloneness, as he goes to a thrash metal gig by himself. And afterwards, he seems properly irritated by the bright jabbering of the pretty rock chick in the cafe queue behind him.
The girl is Mag (Rose-Marie Perreault), she of the straggly pink-blonde hair and merry smile, and she’s teasing him about the “tattoo” that’s partially visible under his sleeve. Theo is too young to apprentice properly as a tattoo artist, but the self-inflicted eyeliner doodle on his bicep shows talent. From that little spark of connection, Mag’s stream of chit-chat flows so naturally and his thawing responses occur so authentically that it’s possible to miss this whole encounter for what it is: a meet-cute. They spend the night together, and a little of the next day. Still, when Mag writes her number on his arm, there’s no guarantee he’ll call, especially when he seems to have a habit of dodging phone calls. But of course he does call: part of the charm of Plante’s deceptively airy and loose construction is that we can be sure of the couple’s mutual connection — their simple rightness — even before they are.
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Theo’s life is not without complications. There’s a splintered relationship with his mother (reflected in an ominously shot dinner scene), a vague wellspring of recent guilt hinted at and talk of him moving away to live with his sister. He eventually brings himself to tell Mag about that.
There’s an enveloping warmth to Plante’s tender script and DP Vincent Allard’s buoyant images that belie the loose-limbed, offhand rhythm. It’s as though the film itself is constantly surprised — like its attractive protagonists — that there’s more here than just a fleeting one-night stand. Dialogues that could easily peter out instead flow conversationally in longish unbroken takes. Moments that could be obvious, such as Theo fumbling with a bra clasp or Mag reedily singing a ballad, or the pair being discovered in bed by Mag’s mom, all play through in unforced, unexpected ways. We’re privileged eavesdroppers, in on the spontaneous birth of all the in-jokes that will define these heady days forever for Theo and Mag. “I’m due to move away on the 20th” Theo finally confesses to her, and after a quick shadow passes across Mag’s face, she points out unseriously that the carton she’s eating from has the 20th as its expiration date. Their relationship has the projected lifespan of a yogurt.
Perhaps they’ll beat the odds, but even if first passion doesn’t last forever, the experience of it marks us always. That mixture of the ephemeral and the eternal is what “Fake Tattoos” understands and enshrines so sweetly, permanently inking in a vivid, unsmudged outline of young love that’s as hokey and touching and sincere as a heart with a dagger through it.