Love Like Poison is, for the most part, a carefully handled portrayal of a 14-year-old girl’s sexual awakening, and the conflicts which are often felt between between religion and instinct.
Clara Augarde plays Anna, a young girl who returns from boarding school for the summer holidays to find herself caught between the heavily Catholic influences of her mother and the local priest, and the slightly more liberal attitudes of her estranged father, her dying grandfather and a rebellious local choir boy.
This premise might sound more humorous than it actually is. Light-hearted moments are, unfortunately, few and far between. However, writer and director Katell Quillévéré’s poignant depiction of the issues at hand make the film particularly enchanting.
Anna flits between an angelic persona, gently tending to her grandfather’s needs and preparing for her impending confirmation, to revelling in her newly discovered sexuality. Augarde does an excellent job of portraying this conflict between the desire to conform and the urge to be outrageous, and this struggle is what will keep you watching.
Having said that, the character relationships in this film are never dull. Anna’s mother is played by the singularly-named Lio (of 1980s pop-stardom, apparently), and the pair share an impressively authentic dynamic on screen. Youen Leboulanger Gourvil is also particularly well cast as a scrawny but cocksure young boy, whose best attempts at teenage romance are as awkward as they are accurate. Even Anna’s less eventful encounters, such as a brief meeting with a school friend, are so genuine and intensely personal that you’ll struggle not to be captivated.
Perhaps it is because the majority of Love Like Poison is so sensitively approached that the few clumsy moments have the misfortune of standing out like a sore thumb. For all this film’s subtlety, there are several occasions where it seems to momentarily lose it’s poetic charm. It’s perhaps forgiveable, and certainly understandable from a first-time feature length director, but it’s hard to deny that there are one or two scenes that would have been better off left out.
Where this film excels, however, in both it’s script and direction, is in its lack of bias. With no apparent agenda throughout, this exploratory venture into adolescence is nothing short of fascinating. In lingering, often uncomfortably but always in equal measure, on moments which are both provocative and those which are more commonplace, Love Like Poison captures the sort of truth-on-film which is still something of a rarity – a mix of innocence and understanding that you’ll be lucky to encounter again for quite sometime.
Love Like Poison is released in UK cinemas on 13th May 2011.