An extraordinary feature debut, “Falcon Lake” is a moody and mesmerizing coming-of-age story that’s audacious, authentic, and atmospheric.
It’s difficult to capture the redolent haze of youth — a time of awkwardness, hope, and exploration — yet director/co-writer Charlotte Le Bon manages to do just that in her brilliant feature film debut Falcon Lake.
Based on the graphic novel Une sœur by Bastien Vivès and adapted for the screen by Le Bon and François Choquet, Falcon Lake touts itself as both a love story and a ghost story, and it delivers on that premise, just not in the way the audience may expect.
The film follows thirteen-year-old Bastien (Joseph Engel) as he spends his summer with his family at his mother’s friend’s lake house. There he encounters Chloe (Sara Montpetit), the sixteen-year-old rebellious daughter of his mother’s friend. Chloe is troubled in her own right, buckling under the pressure of teenage girlhood.
A serial liar and firebrand, Chloe constantly tells a story of a boy who drowned in Falcon Lake and subsequently haunts the location.
Chloe and Bastien form a unique bond, exploring emotional depths and the pain of first love in equal measure. All the while, the mystery of the veracity of Chloe’s ghost story hangs in the background of the narrative like an albatross, creating an ominous foreboding feeling that clings to the film like swimsuits to skin.
Go in with as little information as possible, but if you’re looking for straightforward horror, you won’t find it here.
This is a coming-of-age story that meditates on the ideas of haunting and what it means to haunt and be haunted.
Adolescence is at the forefront of the story at hand, and that’s a good thing.
Le Bon isn’t afraid to pick apart the ugly parts of teenage existence, drinking, drugs, parties, sexuality, etc. She does so in such an earnest and empathetic way that she creates a perfectly engrossing experience for the viewer. Bastien and Chloe are both fully realized, far from the teen film cliches they could be. The story evokes the painful macabre nature that surrounds growing up.
Not all of us have these gorgeous rose-colored tales of youth; some of us have ghost stories.
Le Bon’s surety as a director is fully on display. She knows the story she’s telling, and she does so with searing efficacy. Her fearless handling of the subject matter lends to the film’s authenticity. The situations feel remarkably lived in, like long-lost memories from your own youth.
Allowing the characters to grow organically and in recognizable ways sets up for the devastating third act.
The tight slice-of-life script from Le Bon and Choquet mimics teenagers in a way that seems to elude many filmmakers. (Le Bon is only 36 and thus not terribly too removed from her subject matter.) Nothing is forced, yet they don’t skimp on indulging in the anxious awkwardness of being a teen.
Secondhand embarrassment reigns in such an effective and relatable way. We know or have been these characters.
Sara Montpetit’s Chloe is the standout in the film.
Montpetit approaches Chloe with blunt sincerity.
She’s chaos in girl form, yet she is wholly human and delicate. It’s such a brilliantly satisfying performance, and she bounces off of Joseph Engel’s more contained Bastien.
Engel imbues Bastien with a sense of melancholic longing. His interactions with Montpetit are achingly naturalistic. The audience feels like they are watching something forbidden, too personal to be privy to. The film rests on Montpetit and Engel’s young shoulders, but they handle the task with maturity and grace beyond their years.
The film’s end will be divisive, to say the least.
Some will not be satisfied with the close. However, the end worked extremely well, in my opinion. It brings the film’s omnipresent brooding overcast to a breathtaking close.
The dreadful atmosphere is fully realized and heartbreakingly so.
It’s not an end for everyone, but from a creative and thematic standpoint, I don’t think it could have ended any other way, and it makes me long for Le Bon’s next feature.
With its gorgeous shot comp and impressive musical score, Falcon Lake becomes a multilayered creative treat for the senses. Like all movies, it won’t be for everyone, but the meditative thematics and earnest exploration make it one of 2023’s most haunting films. It’s abstract in the right ways and concrete in the most important aspects.
Falcon Lake is a terrific example of bildungsroman literature-made cinema with touches of magical realism and a triumphant debut for Charlotte Le Bon.