The provocative French drama “Spring Blossom” looks at an ill-advised romance between a teenage girl and an older man from the perspective of a 20-year-old first time filmmaker. Suzanne Lindon writes, directs, and stars in this evocative coming-of-age story that she penned when she was fifteen and directed five years later. Her debut has a very French sensibility and introduces the audience to a young filmmaker with a really bright future.
Lindon (the daughter of French actor Vincent Lindon and actress/singer Sandrine Kiberlain) approaches her story from an interesting angle. She makes no judgments throughout the film’s lean 73-minute runtime, only observations. And she doesn’t make this about predatory seduction or angry teen rebellion. It’s more specifically a film about adolescence and a 16-year-old girl caught in that hard-to-navigate space between childhood and adulthood.
Cozily set in Paris’ picturesque Montmartre, Lindon plays the lead character also named Suzanne who has a life many kids would envy – good grades, plenty of friends, a stable home with loving parents. Yet despite comforts and privilege, she finds her self disillusioned with people her own age. It’s not that she’s an outcast. All of her classmates seem to genuinely like her. But she’s bored with them and feels as if she doesn’t belong. It’s perfectly encapsulated when Suzanne is asked to rate the boys at party on a scale of 1 to 10. “If I really had to do it, I’d give everyone a 5“.
Lindon shoots the scenes with Suzanne and her friends in a way that really highlights this disconnect. Suzanne looks like a puzzle piece that doesn’t quite fit. Even her deep black hair stands out in the seas of blonde and reddish tints. Lindon also uses several clever touches that illustrate Suzanne’s position between childlike innocence and burgeoning maturity. My favorite may be two posters on her bedroom wall. One is of Disney’s animated children’s classic “Bambi”. The other is of the much more adult Maurice Pialat film “À nos amours” (which once had the working title “Suzanne”).
During her walks to and from school, Suzanne begins noticing and soon becomes infatuated with a frustrated theater actor named Raphaël (Arnaud Valois). In a harmless stalker-like fashion she begins observing him, watching as he sits at a cafe, takes a smoke break outside the theater, or works on his broken-down scooter. Inevitably he starts to notice her too and after a few awkward encounters the two begin a lightly breaded romance.
You would almost call it sweet and innocent if not for the discomfort of the one big detail. He’s 35 and she’s 16. The film’s mostly chaste treatment of the relationship still doesn’t hide its ickiness. And having Suzanne not only instigate the romance but also control its direction doesn’t make it easier to digest. Interestingly it takes a while for her preoccupied parents (Frédéric Pierrot and Florence Viala) to notice something’s up. For a while they greet Suzanne’s wave of unusual questions or her sudden interest in wearing makeup with puzzled looks and a shrug of the shoulders. Yet the daughter/parents relationship that Lindon gives us is built on a very organic picture of love, trust, and maybe a dash of naïveté.
Yet there’s a lot to say for the film’s honesty especially coming almost exclusively from the younger girl’s perspective. And Lindon’s point-of-view is an intriguing mix of style and empathy. Take the handful of impromptu interpretive dances that are used to express true emotional connection between Suzanne and Raphaël. Some of these scenes don’t fully feel in sync with the rest of the movie but they are bold and audacious. And it’s a far cry from conventional storytelling which is pretty impressive coming from a filmmaker just beginning what could be a wonderful career in cinema. “Spring Blossom” releases in select theaters May 21st.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS