Wednesday 24 January 2018

Movies: Un Poison Violent ***

(16, limited release)

Paul Whitington

A debut feature from Katell Quillévéré, Un Poison Violent is a sexually charged coming-of-age story set in a small and staunchly conservative Breton village.

Anna (Clara Augarde) is an angelic-looking teenage girl on the cusp of womanhood who's torn between her Catholic upbringing and her growing sexual urges.

To add to Anna's confusion, her parents have recently split up, and the separation has not been amicable. While her father, Paul (Thierry Neuvic) has taken up with another woman, her mother Jeanne (Lio) is left to look after Paul's ailing father Jean (Michel Galabru).

Bitter and increasingly unstable, Jeanne has been stretched too thin by the separation and unintentionally exposes her daughter to her poisonous pessimism. Jeanne also resents her daughter's rising sexuality: she feels her own receding and has developed a rather hopeless crush on the local priest, Father Francois (Stefano Cassetti).

He probably represents a kind of emotional safe haven for Jeanne, but meanwhile Anna has become attracted to a carefree local teenager called Pierre who may be an altar boy but is a secret and robust sceptic.

Anna is preparing for her Confirmation, and the conflict between her faith and her growing passion for Pierre will lead to a dramatic crisis.

All the characters in Quillévéré's low-key but emotionally charged drama are trying to either control or reach an accommodation with sexual passion.

The failing grandfather is wistfully lamenting its passing, Anna is frightened by its power, her father is running after it, her mother is desperately trying to hang on to it and the poor priest is trying to pray his urges away.

No wonder Anna is confused, and in the film's most disturbing scenes sex even interposes itself between her and her beloved grandfather.

The battle for faith is also examined, and overall Quillévéré portrays religion as a rejection of the body's natural needs and urges. And while Un Poison Violent doesn't quite succeed in resolving all these issues, it's an intriguing family drama set in a minor key.

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