Claire Simon's coming-of-ager is at once evocative and irritating

On Fire (Ca Brule)

on May 22, 2006 by Sara Schieron
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A bittersweet success of sorts, this film effectively creates in the viewer the sense of tedium and aggression experienced by the angsty teenage protagonist Livia (Camille Varenne). Something of an anti-bildungsroman, On Fire eschews the wonder and pleasure of the teen years for its more self-indulgent and destructive attributes. Director Claire Simon creates a treacherous landscape where everything that inspires curiosity is also ultimately damning.

On Fire 's expressions of aggression and desire have a malaise to them that is strangely evocative. In this, one struggles with Livia's experiences, as we imagine she struggles with them. Of course, the film's success doesn't belie a need for a sturdy critique of premise.

When Livia is thrown from her horse, she falls in love with the dashing fireman and family man who resuscitates her, and, from then on, she tries to escape her ennui by throwing herself into the most dangerous (and exciting) experiences possible. Her first, and most convenient, area of intrigue is fire. (Good thing they smoke so much in France, or this plot would have nothing to hinge on.)

With an implausible ending, the film has many well-founded attributes but just as many irritants. Livia is more of an anti-hero than a sympathetic danger hound. She seems to embody a sort of heedless disaffect wherein she puts herself, her friends and the countryside in danger without any apparent awareness of the effect of her actions. Ultimately, it's quite difficult to understand Livia's motivations or those of the director. Motifs and visual cues are consistently placed throughout the text, suggesting a degree of formal mastery, but the purpose of this challenging film is a little hard to identify given the amount of “un-pleasure” we're asked to suffer.
Distributor: No distributor set
Cast: Camille Varenne, Gilbert Melki and Kader Mohamed
Director: Claire Simon
Screenwriter: Claire Simon, Jerome Beaujour and Nadege Trebal
Producer: Gilles Sandoz
Genre: Drama; French-language, subtitled
Rating: Not yet rated
Running time: 111 min.
Release date: TBD
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