Comme Le Feu (2024) Berlinale 2024

February 17th, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Philippe Lesage | Canada/France 2024 | 161′

The Generation sidebar of the Berlinale seems perfect for filmmaker Philippe Lesage, it is a section that facilitates exchanges between audiences and filmmakers especially focusing on dialogue with younger audience members. Lesage is most well known for the two loosely linked films The Demons (2015) and Genesis (2018) which both launched the international career of Théodore Pellerin. The director has focused on the travails of Quebecois teenagers and their distant parents and with Comme Le Feu he is back on familiar ground that unfortunately is returning an ever more diminishing recrudescence.

Teenage Jeff is invited by his friend Max to travel deep into the woods and stay at the isolated estate of acclaimed director Blake Cadieux. He has high expectations for the trip: Cadieux is an artist he greatly admires – plus Aliocha, Max’s older sister, with whom he is secretly in love, is also coming.

The film opens with a muscle memory of visual references: long following shots with a gliding camera as a car travels through the bucolic countryside accompanied by a deep drone-inflected score that indicates a pensive trip is to come. By the time the journey ends we will be at a lake where we meet a man standing by a sea plane. This is acclaimed director Blake Cadieux (Arieh Worthalter), who is meeting an old colleague: Albert (Paul Ahmarani), his son, daughter and Jeff. By the interactions from the ‘adults’ we become aware of some of the oncoming battles for Alphaness between two men who have left a lot unsaid, that will slowly unravel during a very long 161m.

The scenario is of course familiar to the classic French Country House genre, but not the farce of Feydeau or the state of the nation treatise à la Jean Renoir’s La Règle du jeu but something else entirely, something very Quebecois. Lesage makes claims that border on cliché, that of the hostile forest and the interior of the cabin becoming the liminal space where there is a youthful search for ideals and freedom while confronting the wounded egos of the jaded adults. There are the motifs of the country house updated, hunting (with both rifles and bow & arrows), dinner, alcohol and unspoken grievances bubble up and destroy the supposed relaxed atmosphere.

This is centred on the two best scenes in the film that are formally the same, a fixed camera at the head of the table as the two adult male protagonist poke and prod each other until they start orally fighting for control and supremacy, while this is on-going the teens sit in stony silence. These two scenes are beautiful in their emotional violence with Paul Ahmarani a clear stand out, what with his pathetic neediness and long-held grudge with his former collaborator Blake.

Other than these two scenes everything else is signposted by a broad schematic screenplay that tries to cover far too many bases. From spurned teenage love, to emerging female sexuality, to creativity in crisis and the inability to settle. By the last act the film has completely come undone with characters acting to the edicts of the screenplay rather than in an emotionally honest manner. This comes with death, dream sequences and a hurt dog.

After the potential promise we started with, we are left with a squalid melodrama that seems snatched from an even more mediocre genre film. @d_w_mault


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