(director/writer: Fabrice du Welz; screenwriters: Romaine Protat/Vincent Tavier; cinematographer: Manuel Dacosse; editor:Anne-Laure Guegan; music: Vincent Cahay; cast: Laurent Lucas (l’oncle de Gloria), Thomas Gioria (Paul), Benoît Poelvoorde (Hinkel), Anael Snoek (Simone), Gwendolyn Gourvenec (Dr. Loisel), Charlotte Vandermeersch (Barge Dweller), Peter Van den Begin (Barge Dweller), Benoît Poelvoorde (Widow), Fantine Harduin (Gloria); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Violaine Barbaroux, Manuel Chiche, Vincent Tavier; The Jokers Films; 2019-France/Belgium-in French & Dutch with English subtitles)

“Stylish fairy tale of amour fou, based on a false sense of love.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Belgian provocateur Fabrice du Welz (“Calvaire”/”Alléluia”) presents the stylish fairy tale of amour fou, based on a false sense of love, as the third part of his Ardennes trilogy. It’s co-written by du Welz, Romaine Protat and Vincent Tavier.Though it starts off enticing and filled with promise, it flounders and eventually the fairy-tale story runs out of steam.

The shy and lonely 12-year-old Paul (Thomas Gioria) is a nature lover, especially fancying wounded birds he nurses back to health, who lives with his possessive cleaning lady single mom (Anaël Snoek), on the wooded grounds of an isolated private mental hospital in Belgium run by Dr. Loisel (Gwendolyn Gourvenec).

When the attractive, manipulative, schizophrenic 13-year-old Gloria (Harduin) meets him on the grounds while on the run from attendants, Paul blindly falls madly in love at first sight. When she tells him she’s been imprisoned on the request of her wicked uncle (Laurent Lucas), who is trying to snatch her inheritance, she convinces the caring Paul that they should escape the institution together and go to Brittany to find her uncle. Despite being warned by the shrink and his mom to stay away from her because she’s a danger to herself and to others, he takes off with her through the forest and they live for awhile off the land.

Gloria is now off her meds. It leads to her hypnotic dream sequence (brilliant!) where she hauntingly conveys the terrifying depths of her illness. But it becomes only a matter of time before it loses the visions of its fairy-tale story and Paul awakens to realize that this summer romance is doomed by her increasing madness and his adolescent pledge of eternal love cannot be kept without such a love destroying him.

The young travelers are helped by a caring widow (Benoît Poelvoorde), find refuge with a friendly barge-dwelling couple (Peter Van den Begin, Charlotte Vandermeersch), and later encounter an eccentric middle-aged loner (Benoit Poelvoorde) who helps them. But during this period Gloria reveals her evil side, mistrusting everyone and using Paul by exploiting his gentleness. By the conclusion things become cliched. It also becomes obvious this won’t be one of those ‘they lived happily ever after’ coming-of-age fairy-tale stories, as Paul loses his innocence.

The film is effective mostly because the 13-year-old Harduin makes for a convincing sociopath, not because the diverting narrative offers anything new to say about mental health issues or fairy-tale stories.

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REVIEWED ON 10/30/2019       GRADE: B