French and Rushin'

Seen one way, Manuel Pradal's Marie Baie des Anges is a self-consciously artsy examination of teen anxiety and teen violence done up with pretensions and gewgaws that the most self-absorbed auteur might disdain. Seen in another light, it's a disturbing vision that manages to capture, through bizarre editing, fractured narrative and frenetic visual bombardment, the quicksilver moods of youth.

In any event, it's worth a long look.
To get the haunted, real-world edge he wanted from a young cast, director Pradal recruited on public beaches and in French gypsy camps, reform schools and detention centers. He came up with a raw, beautiful fourteen-year-old named Vahina Giocante to portray Marie, a bold yet vulnerable Lolita on the verge of womanhood, and with a brooding gypsy boy named Frederic Malgas, who plays Orso, a gun-toting young thief on a collision course with doom. Their untamed, unfiltered performances reek of real life.

Not so the movie's elaborate style, which seems to have come from a laboratory. Taking his cues from Europe's most experimental filmmakers, Pradal retells the story of paradise (and Paradise Lost) in a lush Mediterranean setting that at once features the color-drenched beauty of a Matisse and all the narrative ambiguities of the Cubists. Close by Nice's Baie des Anges, the Bay of Angels, on the French Riviera, Marie and Orso grapple with their demons--she with her emergent sexuality, he with his growing penchant for crime. Like Breathless, the Jean-Luc Godard classic, Marie Baie des Anges is driven by dangerous restlessness. Marie prowls the crude sailors stationed at an American naval base, reaching for a dream she doesn't understand, tempting an outbreak of carnal violence. Orso and his pals fool with large-caliber pistols, taunt the police and climb aboard jittery motorbikes, looking to scratch out a living and define their manhood.

By fate, Orso and Marie are cast as Adam and Eve on the Cote d'Azur, and their hazy, romantic idyll on a deserted island is one of the most beautiful and mysterious sequences I've seen on a movie screen. Alas, the fall must come. Blood must serve. Puzzle-maker and master of mosaic, director Pradal weaves an intricate denouement involving a cafe robbery, an accidental shooting and a murder, all perceived in a hot tangle of nightmare, while high-powered race cars scream around the curves of the nearby Monaco Grand Prix circuit. At once inside and outside the consciousness of his troubled young characters, Pradal shows us the sensation and the savagery of the adolescent mind--without concession to sentiment or nicety.

Care to be disturbed? This exercise in animal magnetism will probably do it--as long as you set aside notions of linear order and go with an extraordinarily daring film's wild rush of emotion.--Gallo

Marie Baie des Anges.
Written and directed by Manuel Pradal. With Vahina Giocante, Frederic Malgas, Nicolas Welbers and David Kilner.


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