DirectorCharlotte Le Bon
Release Date(s)2022 (August 29, 2023)
Studio(s)Cinéfrance Studios/Metafilms/OnzeCinq (Yellow Veil Pictures/Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
Coming-of-age stories have always commanded a place among movies. The Breakfast Club, Summer of 42, Stand by Me, and Cinema Paradiso come to mind. Falcon Lake is the story of a young man whose holiday trip causes him to deal with his awakening sexuality as well as legends of a ghost that haunts the lake.
Thirteen-year-old Bastien (Joseph Engel) and his family have traveled from Paris to the rural Quebec lakeside cabin of an old friend of his mom’s. While Bastien is content to hang out with his younger brother and play video games, the arrival of his somewhat older cousin Chloe (Sarah Montpetit) changes things.
Chloe isn’t thrilled to be sharing the cabin with two children for the entire summer. Bored and often burdened with babysitting duties, she amuses herself by telling the boys about a ghost who haunts the lake. Longing to join Falcon Lake’s teen social scene, she steals wine from her father and drinks with boys her age around campfires. Chloe invites Bastien to join her in the forbidden world of underage drinking and sex. Shy Bastien finds himself at parties in various locations around the lake with teenagers who periodically joke about a ghost who haunts the area, the spirit of a child who died in a swimming accident.
Bastien, on the verge of his fourteenth birthday, caught in that awkward period between childhood and adolescence, is excited by the new world Chloe introduces to him and they develop a rapport, one she never finds with boys her own age at the lake. She sees in him a kindred spirit. He sees in her daring, excitement, and transgression. She’s his teacher, opening doors well before he should have them opened. But it’s going to be a long summer, and they enjoy hanging out together.
First-time director Charlotte Le Bon opens Falcon Lake with a lengthy shot of the calm water, disturbed only by occasional ripples until a body slowly emerges from beneath, foreshadowing what we think will be a horror film. But Le Bon is setting up the teens’ subsequent discussion about a local ghost. Is their purpose merely to instill fear into Bastien and his brother or is the tale based on something more?
The atmospheric photography of the lake and its surroundings make us wonder whether an apparition will pop out for a jump scare, and there are times when suspense builds so that a payoff seems inevitable. But Le Bon is drawing a parallel to sexual phantoms Bastien is dealing with. Still scrawny and awkward, Bastien finds Chloe more terrifying than any ghost. Chloe and Bastien share more than a friendship, not quite a romance. If Bastien were a couple of years older, you could see them easily being a couple, but a two-year age gap is far more significant when you’re a teen than when you’re older. Chloe recognizes Bastien is more mature in spirit than his years and that’s what attracts her.
Engel perfectly conveys both childhood innocence and fascination with an “older woman.” Chloe draws him out of his shell, showing him an exciting lifestyle and he responds by taking part, even dancing enthusiastically if not too rhythmically, and he’s accepted by the older kids. In his early scenes with Chloe, he says little but he listens, admires, follows her lead. Later, he becomes more self-assured without becoming overbearing. This fine line is important, and Engel pulls it off admirably.
Montpetit has to convey restiveness as well as sensuality. Hardly a Mrs. Robinson, she’s not a seductress but a girl who finds companionship in a non-threatening, younger boy. She plays the experienced cool girl Chloe with ease. When she casually undresses in front of Bastien as if he’s her kid brother, she gives the action a flirtatious glimmer. She teases him, coaxing him out of his shell as she sheds her own. While she offers him a taste of adult pleasures, he affords her the freedom to be a kid again.
Falcon Lake was shot by director of photography Kristof Brandt on 16 mm film with Arriflex 416 cameras and Zeiss high speed lenses, presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Color palette is muted, with deep greens, earthy browns, smoky greys, and mustard yellows dominating. Many scenes look as if they were filmed under cloudy skies, with sunlight rare. The lake itself, in keeping with a key element of the story, has an eerie appearance, calm and still, with large trees on its banks. Night scenes have a bluish cast, and a campfire’s glow is reflected on faces. In one scene, Bastien sits against a wall, his face and body bathed in blue light. Bastien has a smooth, hairless face with rosy cheeks. Chloe’s face looks natural, with no make-up.
The soundtrack is French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an option. Dialogue is clear and distinct. The sound design is especially effective, with crickets breaking the nighttime quiet and general silence amping suspense in tense moments. Sound effects include a mysterious cry in the woods; a piercing scream; a soccer ball kicked around by Bastien, his father, and younger brother; loud party dance music; heavy rain splattering against a window; and a boat’s outboard motor humming. Director Le Bon uses sound extremely well to make us feel like supernatural elements are at play at Falcon Lake.
Bonus materials on the unrated Region A Blu-ray release from Yellow Veil Pictures include the following:
- Behind the Scenes Featurette (11:00)
- Storyboard to Screen Featurette:
- Opening Scene (1:45)
- Arrival at Cabin (1:49)
- First Encounter (1:06)
- Bastien Goes in the Lake (2:49)
- Theatrical Trailer (1:34)
- International Trailer (1:32)
Behind-the Scenes Featurette – In French, with English subtitles at the bottom of the screen, director Charlotte Le Bon equates the ghost story with the characters’ sexual awakening, noting, “There’s this thing about death and desire that go well together.” She describes choreographing a complex tracking shot in the party scene involving lots of extras. It took ten takes because extras, unsure of exactly how to move, were bumping into the camera operator. Le Bon always dreamed of being the life of the party but never knew how. For the character of Chloe, Le Bon needed a “magnetic” personality who had the right balance between femininity and masculinity. Over 200 girls were auditioned. Bastien had to convey the bridge between innocence and adulthood. Le Bon speaks about the important relationship she had with the cinematographer to capture the right atmosphere.
Story Board to Screen Featurette – Storyboards are shown on the left side of the screen as actual footage from the film is shown on the right in four scenes from Falcon Lake.
Booklet – The 12-page booklet contains the essay Ghosts Just Come With the Territory: First Love & Loss in Charlotte Le Bon’s Falcon Lake by Jessica Kiang, 3 color photos, and production credits.
Falcon Lake is an intriguing film centered on a naturalistic teen romance with a touch of mystery. Desire and death drive the film’s charged atmosphere, but director Le Bon never successfully blends the two elements; the metaphor of a ghost representing the unknowns of adulthood is never quite established. The sense of gloom is palpable from the beginning, undermining the sense of carefree adolescence to contrast with what we learn later of Bastien and Chloe’s turbulent emotional lives.
- Dennis Seuling