Falcon Lake Charlotte Le Bon

Filmmaker Charlotte Le Bon on Falcon Lake, her dreamy and haunted look at first love

Le Bon discussed basing her debut feature on a popular graphic novel, managing sex scenes with young actors and the beauty of shooting on film over digital.

Falcon Lake is a coming-of-age film about the budding friendship between a young teen, Bastien (Joseph Engel), and the older Chloé (Sara Monpetit) over the course of a summer. Based on the graphic novel Une Soeur, by Bastien Vives, it’s also the first feature film directed by actress Charlotte Le Bon. In 2018, her short film Judith Hotel was a strange and bewildering fantasy about a hotel devoted to curing insomnia. The threads of Falcon Lake were laid there; the textured film and strong aesthetic sense underpinning a narrative between naturalism and magic. 

“A director I worked with as an actress recommended me the graphic novel,” says Le Bon over the phone. “They told me that it would be a great first film, and I remember hearing once that it’s important for a first film to be about something you know.” Falcon Lake is about first love, and first sexual experiences, “and I know those things. I also have enough distance from that time to handle the material.”

It’s not unusual for coming-of-age films to breach the subject of love, but they’re rarely as mystically charged. Against the backdrop of the burgeoning romance, the film is infused with mysteries of the lake, particularly the increasingly elaborate ghost stories Chloé tells about drowned children. The hazy atmosphere of the film destabilizes normal expectations and works within more complex genre conventions to create a unique and vibrant film experience.

Le Bon, who also used film to shoot her short film, saw the choice as essential. “Shooting on film works well for a film about sensuality,” she says. “The light, the textures and colours are magical compared with digital. I liked the idea, too, that the film would feel like a memory. At first glance, it might not be clear when it is set.” Working on 16mm, in particular, obfuscates the image in a way that lends it an otherworldly perspective — whereas digital filmmaking can strip away the mystery. “It felt for a period that everyone seemed to think more resolution was better so that you could almost see inside the actor’s pores, but I don’t think that’s the case at all.”

Falcon Lake Charlotte Le Bon interview
Joseph Engel and Sara Montpetit in Falcon Lake

Beyond the image quality, though, so much of the film hinges on the performance of the two lead characters. Working with younger actors presents some challenges, but Le Bon has a lot of experience. Rehearsals were limited. “I know, as an actress,” as Le Bon. “Sometimes we’re asked to be too perfect through a rehearsal process that we lose that dynamic energy.” 

A lot of Le Bon’s work also ensured the actors felt at ease, particularly with the film’s more intimate scenes. Sara Montpetit, who plays Chloé, explained that most of the intimate scenes were shot at the beginning of the shoot to alleviate anxiety. “Charlotte gave me a lot of confidence,” says Montpetit. “She’s done scenes like that before and knew how to work with us.” 

Le Bon says she gave the actors the choice to we get them out of the way or push them to the end. “But, by the time we got there, we’d rehearsed the movements so many times, it was easy.” Le Bon explains the responsibility of working with younger actors: “I can’t permit myself as a director to ask a young actor, for example, to do a masturbation scene according to instinct. It’s not my place to delve into their intimate life. The goal, therefore, is to choreograph it, to decomplex the sex scenes as much as possible.”

For Sara Montpetit, who made her big screen debut last year in the critically acclaimed epic, Maria Chapdelaine, playing Chloé was a much different experience. “Maria was a lot of research and a lot of time understanding how people lived,” says Montpetit. “Charlotte wanted us to work on instinct, so there was a lot of working things out on set.” 

What attracted Montpetit to the character was that Chloé “doesn’t fall into the clichés of adolescence,” an idea that overruns the film. While feeling like an authentic and familiar experience, Falcon Lake repeatedly subverts expectations to create a singular and bewildering cinematic experience. ■

Falcon Lake (directed by Charlotte Le Bon)

Falcon Lake is currently screening in Montreal theatres.

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