Starring:: Clara Augarde, Lio and Michel Galabru

Newcomer Katel Quillevere’s directorial debut is a moving coming-of-age drama blending emotional depth with an intense naturalistic social realism. Unafraid to tackle big ideas, the script deals with sex and religion with admirable frankness and maturity. Managing all of this while retaining a sweetness and playful innocence is part of what makes this film such a memorable one.

The story centres on Anna (Clara Augarde), a young teenager filled with doubts about her faith and desires. Returning to her small Breton village from Catholic boarding school for the holidays she discovers that her father has left. Her shocked and depressed mother (Lio) seeks the company of the local priest (Stefano Cassetti), who is also a childhood friend. Meanwhile Anna quietly plays Connect 4 and listens to old records with her blasphemous, cantankerous grandfather Jean (Michel Galabru). Soon her attention is drawn towards local boy Pierre, an earthy and free-thinking youth who inspires many conflicting feelings within Anna.

Love Like Poison scores high points in many critical areas. Visually stunning, certain scenes seem to be drenched in bold, vibrant colours – Quilevere has said that the expressive use of colours by Dario Argento and Douglas Sirk helped guide the work – while others have a melancholic, shadowy feel. The landscape of Brittany is brought out all its wild, rugged glory and the village itself and its people have a timeless quality that could almost be from any decade in the last thirty.

The film is also interesting in its use of music. The title is inspired by a Serge Gainsbourg song and the eclectic folk songs and choir music – including a choral version of Radiohead’s 'Creep' – add a powerful dimension to the events on screen.

A rich vein of dry humour runs through the film; Catholic traditions are respected but there is a healthy amount of cynicism about the power of the church as well as the infamous guilt it all too often inspires. It is no coincidence that Anna’s crisis of faith comes just as she is preparing for her confirmation – there is little doubt that Quillevere’s primary interest is to raise doubts about the focus of religion in Catholic families.

The balance of darkness and humour is well portrayed in the character of Jean, a fun loving and independent man whose bawdiness and natural jocularity provide the film with its lightest moments. However his sickness of mind and body lead him into darker territory. In a way he represents the humanist model without God; in one scene he openly belittles and disrespects the priest but he is ill and shows signs of becoming amoral and ‘less human’ in his dementia.

Love Like Poison is a remarkable debut – there is a style and uniqueness about it which draws the audience in. There are so many ideas in the script and the acting and casting is uniformly excellent. Some of the pacing goes occasionally awry but on the whole this is a wonderfully affecting picture from a filmmaker worthy of attention.