Published August 1, 1998
Marie Baie Des Anges by Manual Pradal stars Vahina Giocante as 15 year old Marie and Frederic Malgras as her juvenile delinquent boyfriend Orso. It is a sort of French Kids, that egregious film of a couple of years ago which enjoyed a brief renown as the very latest in “reality” cinema. This is a very easy kind of film to make. You just show young kids doing as many vile things as you can think of—which are naturally all the more vile because the kids are so young—and carefully imply that this kind of utter anomie represents the true moral state of what they used to call “the younger generation.” It is all piffle, but it sells both to adults, because it makes their flesh creep, and to kids, because they like to make adults’ flesh creep. And of course it meets the basic requirement of today’s movies, music, art etc. of being full of “attitude.”
In short, this is a document in the on-going history of “cool.” France has long been an admirer of American cool because in some ways it is very French. Pradal is here offering us an up-to-date sort of cool which is to regular movies as rap is to regular music. It is a succession of attitudes, of tableaux vivantes, of lost youth. It begins with Orso burglarizing a house. We see him running. Then we see him counting money. Actually, it begins with his shooting another boy, Goran (Nicholas Welbers), but we cut away from that in what seems to be a flashback. The episode comes back at the end and so acts as a framing device for the rest, which is appropriate since it is at once the logical culmination of Orso’s attitudinizing (and Goran had earlier promised to get him a gun) and the only real act of violence he commits.
Next we see Marie and her girlfriend, Mireille (Roxanne Mesquida) picking up some American sailors. Neither girl, nor Orso, nor Goran, nor anyone else seems to have any parents or even any older relatives. Marie is apparently a trained dancer, yet at 15 she is effectively a prostitute. Where did she get the dancing lessons? There is little striving for verisimilitude here. We simply move on to the next tableau—in this case one of the gang of beach kids riding around in dodge-’em cars that never stop, passing bottles of hard liquor back and forth. Who’s running the Dodge-’em concession? Marie spends a lot of time with the Americans. Orso tries to rob them by rifling their pockets while they are swimming. They chase him down and beat him up. Marie, who may have been saved from sexual assault by the distraction, feels sorry for him. A friend of hers gives them both a lift on his motor scooter. Orso feels Marie up, but she doesn’t mind.
Orso is sent to reform school for a crime he did not commit. There is another tableau of the reform school boys with sickles cutting wheat so golden it hurts your eyes. Then Orso and a bunch of others escape simply by dropping their sickles and running. Apparently it has not occurred to the authorities in charge that they might do this. Orso meets Marie again. While she dances to distract a couple of fishermen, Orso steals their boat. He and Marie go out to island in the middle of the bay, named for the Angel Shark, formerly native to those parts. We are told by eavesdropping on a tour boat the legend of the Angel and the shark mating. I wonder if there could be any symbolic resonance?
What follows is also very French. A Paul et Virginie sort of romance of innocence between these two hideously experienced children. It’s The Blue Lagoon without the plausibility. Of course this idyll must end, crushed by unfeeling adult society, but it is hard to feel very much compassion for these beautiful children—mainly because they have no inward lives with which we can feel a point of connection even through their anti-social behavior. But inwardness is just one of the things sacrificed to the film’s obsession with commercial billboard-like tableaux. It doesn’t have to make sense. It only has to be a romantic evocation of a lost paradise of perfect self indulgence—for which, I guess, we are meant to feel some kind of nostalgia of our own.