A touching coming of age drama set amongst French countryside, Love Like Poison tells the tale of 14 year old Anna (Clara Augarde). Her family is in the midst of upheaval: her father, Jean (Michel Galabru), has left her mother, Jeanne (Lio), and is now shacked up with a new partner, leaving Jeanne looking after his invalid father. Both Anna’s father and her grandfather have absolutely no time for the church, her best friend casually talks of premarital sex and, to top it all off, Anna has a crush on the local choirboy. Thus, you can see why she may be feeling a bit conflicted about her pending Confirmation.
The debut feature from Katell Quillévéré, Love Like Poison is, on the face of it, a simple film. Beneath the surface, however, it’s an emotionally complex tale with subtle layers of symbolism. Augarde is brilliant in the lead role, and her portrayal of Anna as hesitant, confused and reckless wonderfully captured the essence of that awkward stage between childhood and adulthood. Lio plays Anna’s mother with aplomb yet we’re not provided with much to help us sympathise with her. Italian Stefano Cassetti is good as the local priest, yet his character tumbles into cliché. You have to work pretty hard to make the old ‘priest fighting the temptations of the flesh’ storyline work, and here it feels like an unnecessary sub-plot.
Love Like Poison isn’t really an erotic film, per se. Though a critic quoted on the cover references Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty, this film focuses on a much younger protagonist, so there’s nothing here that’s more than vaguely racy. It’s more about first love and coming to terms with the first hints of sexuality, as opposed than anything more advanced.
The cinematography is never the focal point, and despite the fact that much of the film is set in a picturesque French village, the camerawork is rather workmanlike. The image quality of the DVD is average. You’re likely to notice substantial blurring of the titles on an HDTV, however the colours are nice and vibrant. This is a vanilla release too, with no special features to speak of.
The strength of Love Like Poison lies in the simple and honest nature of the storytelling. In the quest for realism, writers Quillévéré and Mariette Désert aren’t too focussed on easy answers, so don’t expect everything to be tied in a neat bundle by the film’s end.
Love Like Poison is available on DVD from Madman now.Rating: