Courtesy Photo
90 minutes | Rated: R
In French with English subtitles
Opened: Friday, July 17, 1998
Written & directed by Manuel Pradal

Starring Vahina Giocante, Frederic Malgras, Amira Caser, David Kilner & Jamie Harris

This film is on the Best of 1998 list.
Mesmerizing 'Marie' captures the confusing nature of adolescent passion

The title character in "Marie Baie Des Anges" ("Marie from the Bay of Angels") is a mesmerizing teenage beauty, percolating with ripe, unexplored sexuality.

At 15 she is the summer Lolita of a Mediterranean resort town where she boldly experiments with her recently-discovered power over men, teasing American sailors and turning her nose up at libidinous local boys.

Marie revels in her talent for the tease until she finds herself overwhelmingly drawn to an unstable pubescent hooligan named Orso, intoxicated by emotions she has not yet learned to gauge.

In a movie that captures acutely the imprudent nature of adolescence, French writer-director Manuel Pradal spins a haunting, vital fable in which feelings and images are much more important that words.

There is an underlying danger in her wanton games that Marie, in her inexperience, fails to sense. The expectation of sex is in the air as the sailors ply her with expensive nights on the town, and troubled young Orso pays her tender affections but has a feral side that could surface at any moment.

Pradal lends the film a heady, primal scent of young infatuation as his teenage lovers steal off to a empty nearby island in a pilfered boat. They share giddy romantic moments and nervous first-time sex. But these spells are designed to feel fleeting, as if some kind of tragedy is bound to befall them.

This is Pradal's first film, but he infuses it with sublimely effective and subtle technique. He often fills the frame with close-ups, especially during tracking shots. He portrays the searing heat of the Mediterranean summer with weightless dresses, open shirts and bright, peeling paint on stucco walls. He substitutes incidental music with exaggerated natural sound (a passing train, a highly-revved car engine) to rake tension into many scenes. And he gets remarkable performances from a cast of primarily non-professional actors.

Vahina Giocante, the sapling charmeuse with lyrical eyes who plays Marie, is a ballet dancer by trade. But her innate ability to be coy, seductive and vulnerable at once is central to the film's enthralling atmosphere.

A natural but naive coquette, she rouses both lustful and parental instincts with what has turned out to be a career-launching performance. She has already completed a second movie and has signed to a third. I hope they both find an American distributor.

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