×

Film Review: ‘The Fireflies Are Gone’

Quebec writer-director Sebastien Pilote’s third feature is another finely crafted view of small-town life.

Director:
Sebastien Pilote
With:
Karelle Tremblay, Pierre-Luc Brillant, Luc Picard, Francois Papineau, Marie-France Marcotte. (French dialogue)

1 hour 36 minutes

Director Sebastien Pilote’s ongoing study of Quebec lives running out of options continues apace with “The Fireflies Are Gone.” This third feature (his first in five years) is, like its predecessors “The Salesman” and “The Auction,” a neatly observed character portrait in a well-detailed small-town setting. But in contrast to the middle-aged protagonists of his prior films, whose lives were already winding down after decades of toil, the heroine here is just at the start of adulthood. And as she obstinately keeps reminding more responsible types, she has no plans for what she’ll do with the rest of it. This is a satisfying, slightly mournful seriocomedy that’s equal parts cynical, hopeful, and ambivalent. It’s also, in Pilote’s now-established style, writ so small and low-key that it may not travel far beyond the festival circuit and standard Canadian distribution outlets.

First impressions aren’t all that flattering to Leo (Karelle Tremblay), whom we meet brattily shrugging off the good tidings of grownups giving her an 18th birthday dinner. In fact, she soon abandons those well-wishes without even a goodbye, failing to return from the bathroom in order to go hang with some friends. She has the jaded know-it-all air typical of some teens, unaccompanied by much actual knowledge. Her long-suffering mother (Marie-France Marcotte) doesn’t want that attitude lounging around the house all summer, insisting her only child get a seasonal job. Leo settles for being the night custodian of a public park’s baseball field. It’s something that holds no particular interest for her, but that seems to be what she prefers. Commitments and attachments are not her thing.

By chance she meets not-particularly-friendly Steve (Pierre-Luc Brillant) in a diner, and when she runs across him again, pursues their casual connection with unusual avidity. He teaches guitar, so she buys one in order to take lessons. Steve isn’t exactly a prize catch: He’s probably twice her age, lives in his elderly mom’s basement, and despite considerable talent (actor-musician Brillant gets ample opportunity to demonstrate his facility from classical to metal solos), has apparently never wanted to join a band or otherwise get the hell outta Dodge. Yet she finds him intriguing, and he finds her mercurial nature entertaining.

Other factors on her mostly-passive attitude this particular summer have longer histories. Leo perpetually squabbles with mom and insists on being rude to her stepfather, conservative talk-radio personality Paul (Francois Papineau), in part because she blames him for her parents’ breakup. It’s not that simple: He and Leo’s father Sylvain (Luc Picard) were on opposite sides of a labor dispute that ultimately closed the local mill. Union organizer Sylvain then had no choice but to move elsewhere for work, his marriage crumbling as a result. Now he’s employed far to the north, coming “home” briefly every couple months to a sparsely furnished apartment and his daughter’s familiar complaints.

Though it never feels aimless, Pilote’s script is not particularly plot-driven. The major arc is the rise and fall of Leo and Steve’s relationship, which itself is fairly low-drama. There are also shifts in her understanding of the parental figures in her life. But the writer-director isn’t about to tie all our heroine’s loose ends into a neat bow. In fact, at the end, her behavior remains as petulant as ever, and what if anything she’s learned over the summer’s course is murky.

Nonetheless, there’s a sense of some mysterious and encouraging form of closure, underlined by the eponymous firefly phenomenon — a lyrical motif that might easily have played as pretentiously unnecessary, but which actually hits a needed narrative sweet spot.

Tremblay is pleasingly natural, refusing to soften the less sympathetic edges of a character with much emotional maturing to do. The supporting turns by familiar Quebec screen faces are all expert. But the film’s secret weapon is Brillant (of “C.R.A.Z.Y.”), who brings a sly, centered heart to a figure too content with his humble lot to be the sad sack one initially expects.

The entire assembly is thoughtful and attractive, boosted considerably not only by an eclectic mix of Francophone and other pre-existing song tracks, but in particular by Philippe Brault’s original score, which is romantically lush in a way that seems almost incongruous for the story it accompanies. Yet that contrast works to provide levels of bemused irony and bigger-picture commentary that really make “Fireflies” take flight, becoming more than the sum of its deliberately modest parts.

Film Review: 'The Fireflies Are Gone'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 6, 2018. (Also in Karlovy Vary.) Running time: 96 MIN. (Original title: “La disparition les lucioles.”)

Production: (Canada) A Les Films Seville presentation of an ACPAV production. (Int'l sales: Seville International, Montreal.) Producers: Bernadette Payeur, Marc Daigle. Executive producer: Robert Lacerte.

Crew: Director, writer: Sebastien Pilote. Camera (color, HD): Michel La Veaux. Editor: Stephane Lafleur. Music: Philippe Breault.

With: Karelle Tremblay, Pierre-Luc Brillant, Luc Picard, Francois Papineau, Marie-France Marcotte. (French dialogue)

More Film

  • Judi Dench

    Judi Dench Says Works by Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey Should Be Respected

    Veteran British star Judi Dench has said that the work produced by Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey should be separated from the offenses they are alleged to have committed. Both Weinstein and Spacey face charges of sexual assault in the U.S., which they deny, and have been investigated in other jurisdictions as well, including Britain. [...]

  • Karlovy Vary Honorees

    Karlovy Vary Fetes Julianne Moore, Patricia Clarkson, Vladimir Smutny

    The Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival Honorees JULIANNE MOORE, Crystal Globe for Outstanding Artistic Contribution to World Cinema An actress, author and activist, Moore has long earned accolades on her diverse career path. The North Carolina native won a Daytime Emmy with her first major TV role on the soap opera “As the World Turns,” [...]

  • CLOSE QUARTERS – In Disney and

    Korea Box Office: ‘Toy Story 4,' ‘Aladdin’ Share Weekend

    Two Disney releases, “Toy Story 4” and “Aladdin” ruled the weekend box office in Korea. Opening on Thursday, “Toy Story 4” earned $8.54 million from 1.12 million admissions over its four opening days. The animated family adventure film accounted for 32% of the country’s total weekend box office. May release “Aladdin” slipped to second from [...]

  • Lendita Zeqiraj Agas House Movie

    Karlovy Vary Embraces New Voices From the East

    When Karlovy Vary Film Festival’s East of the West competition opened to submissions from the Middle East two years ago, festival artistic director Karel Och noted it was “about time to abandon the political definition of the ‘East of the West’ countries,” long determined by the geographical boundaries hemming in the former Soviet bloc. Though [...]

  • Let There Be Light Movie Marko

    Tough Competition in Spa Town Festival

    When the curtain rises June 28 on the 54th edition of the Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival, there will be a conspicuous absence among the 12 titles selected for the main competition: Czech directors. It’s just the second time this decade that the host country has failed to field a single entry in competition, a [...]

  • Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp Join Edgar

    Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp Join Edgar Wright’s ‘Last Night in Soho’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Edgar Wright’s “Last Night in Soho” has rounded out its cast, with veteran actors Diana Rigg and Terence Stamp among the stars signing on for the latest movie from the “Baby Driver” director. Stamp can currently be seen in Netflix hit “Murder Mystery” with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. Rigg’s recent roles include Olenna Tyrell [...]

  • Zhang Zhao LeEco film

    Zhang Zhao, Chief of Le Chuang (Formerly Le Vision Pictures), Resigns

    Zhang Zhao, the chairman and CEO of Le Chuang Entertainment, formerly known as Le Vision Pictures, has resigned for “personal reasons,” the firm said.    Zhang’s resignation was announced in a statement posted to the firm’s official social media account Monday, which thanked him for his service. “Le Chuang will carry on as before, using [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content