God bless the French for making so many movies about love. The good kind of love, the bad kind of love, too much love, too little love, destructive love, abusive love, taboo love, sacrificial love. When it comes to the affaires de coeur, just leave it to the French. It seems that they have the finest sense and most advanced vocabulary in this department and have a proud cinematic tradition to prove it too.
Adding her name to that tradition, 20-year-old Suzanne Lindon (daughter of French acting royalty Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain) brings us her directorial debut SPRING BLOSSOM, which received the Cannes 2020 label and world premiered at TIFF this week. The film is about Suzanne (played by Lindon), a dreamy high school student who finds little appeal in what other 16-year-old’s are into and spends her days in a daze, waiting for life to finally happen. After school one day, she sees someone at a Parisian theater that immediately catches her fancy. The man turns out to be Raphaël (Arnaud Valois from BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE)), an actor who also feels out of place among his peers and sees a kindred spirit in the strange young girl. They start to fall for each other although both are held back by caution, not least because Raphaël is 35.
Now this movie is what the kids these days would call a MOOD. It’s very light, very contained, driven less by dialogue than what’s left unsaid. Clocking in at just 73 min, it feels like something between a prolonged cinematic interlude and a feature film. Which is a sweet spot to hit in this case because it is a story about ambiguous, in-between feelings. Suzanne is the first to approach Raphaël, but you can tell she isn’t quite sure why herself. All her friends are busy partying and drinking beers, why does she keep coming back to a man twice her age having bread with marmalade at the café? Is it because she can’t see through him the way she sees through the boys in her class? Is it because he seems to get her? Is it love?
The film does not deal in grand, fiery passions or profound sorrows, it’s about a very specific sense of uncertainty that one experiences perhaps once or twice in life. And I’m so glad someone (who’s not a 55-year-old dude) made a movie about it. You probably won’t come out of the movie feeling blown away by the plot or hit by some groundbreaking epiphany, but you would feel like you’ve just breathed in the air someone bottled up for you when you were 16. And how lovely that is.
The original French title of the film is “Seize printemps” or “Sixteen Springs”, and it features an original song of the same name written by Vincent Delerm and performed by Lindon (girl did everything herself). The melancholic melody is used to great atmospheric effect throughout the film. Complete with lyrics, it conjures up an enchanting image of lonely hearts wandering the streets of Paris that would pin you to your seat after the credits start rolling. Just in general Lindon shows quite the knack for incorporating musical elements into storytelling. There are three scenes where her character or both leads break into spontaneous dance. These sequences have a fantastical touch to them and add a dream-like quality to the narrative. They also convey, through interpretive movements, the different states of mind of the characters as their almost-relationship progresses, things they want to say but can’t find the words for. It’s an eloquent, visually striking device that shows promise in the young filmmaker.
In our highly politicized climate, everything can be scandalous. But I think it’s important that personal stories continue to be told and lived. Lindon brings an intimate point of view to SPRING BLOSSOM and her take on a somewhat sensitive subject matter feels truthful, honest, precious. For that alone she should be congratulated. In the film’s final shot, Suzanne sees something, realizes what it means and breaks into a smile. For me this quick, wordless ending communicates the conviction that, however unlikely it may seem, we shall meet the right person at the right time someday; and that until then, we shall be thinking of all those who have kept us company along the way. It’s a wise, emotionally generous outlook on love that transcends bitterness and heartache. Pretty remarkable that this came from the creative mind of a teenager. Thank God for the French.