Meteorites was my fourth title in My French Film Festival and it follows the first three screenings in featuring another beautiful French landscape, this time in the département of Hérault in the South of France with both the coast and the mountains inland. It also has links to my first screening, Savage, in its focus on a young woman and the broad category of ‘coming of age’. It echoes that film with a discourse about the natural world, but in most other aspects it is very different and, to my mind, more successful.
Writer-director Romain Laguna graduated from the prestigious La fémis film school in Paris in 2013 and since then he has made short films before taking Meteorites as his first feature to the San Sebastian Film Festival in 2018. The film was released in France in May 2019. In the same year a compendium film featuring his contribution was also released. Meteorites is very much a low-budget début film from a talented filmmaker seemingly designed to please festival juries. That’s no bad thing in itself and given Laguna’s background (he comes from Béziers in Hérault) I did wonder if he was conscious of following Agnès Varda, who made her first feature, La pointe courte (1954) in Sète. Laguna’s casting agent found Zéa Duprez in Sète and Meteorites is built entirely around Duprez’s character Nina. It’s also the case that Meteorites, although ostensibly a fiction, often feels like a documentary – much like the Varda film.
Laguna had very little money to make his film, so working from home with family and friends he spent 10 months assembling a cast of non-professionals and then devised strategies to allow them to perform ‘naturally’ – hence the documentary feel. There were several collaborators on the script. Nina has decided to leave school at 16 and for the summer has got a job in a theme park featuring the story of dinosaurs and their extinction. Unfortunately this means an early start and a bus from her village. At the theme park she meets co-worker Djamila from an Algerian family and then Djamila’s brother, Morad, a 19 year-old ‘lad’ on a motor-bike. Nina already has a friend, Alex, whose father owns a small vineyard. Before she meets Morad she has been hanging out with Alex when she sees a meteorite crash into the hills. Later she watches a film at the theme park about the possible cause of the sudden decline of the dinosaurs – a massive meteorite shower hitting the Earth. The suggestion is that Nina changes and becomes more adventurous and perhaps more reckless after she sees the meteorite. Certainly she decides to go with Morad and ignore Djamila’s warnings that Morad will dump her.
That’s more or less the narrative except for the ending which I won’t spoil. This 85 minute film depends on some terrific camerawork by Aurélien Marra (the same 2013 class from La fémis?) of both people and places and in particular on the performance of Zéa Duprez. Director and cinematographer decided to use the Academy frame (1.37:1). I can’t find out why this was chosen, but it works very well. Perhaps it is intended to suggest that Nina has a limited perspective on the world and is tightly focused on what she sees around her? If that was the case though, it would be logical to switch to widescreen after the meteorite sighting – but the frame stays as Academy. I’m a fan of CinemaScope and most French cinéastes tend to use ‘Scope (2.35:1) but in this case, I think the scenes are framed beautifully.
Zéa Duprez is a beautiful young woman with a facial birth mark. Her performance is indeed ‘natural’ – she isn’t a starlet but a young woman who could be 16 or 25 at different moments. It did occur to me that Romain Laguna has her photographed in a number of intimate scenes. The brief scenes of nudity didn’t seem to me to be gratuitous. Some of the shots emphasise her shapely figure but then it is difficult to shoot a young woman in the summer heat of Southern France wearing minimal clothing without being accused of offering a ‘male gaze’. There is also more of a tradition of this kind of representation in French cinema than in American cinema, for instance. I’m interested in what other viewrs made of this in the current climate of #MeToo.
I was conscious of other films while watching Meteorites. Suzanne (2013) by Katell Quillévéré with Sara Forestier was one possibility with a direct reference to a young woman growing up without much parental control. If I understood the relationship correctly, Nina’s mother is a single parent working on a smallholding and selling produce at a city market, meaning she’s not around most of the time. She is also perhaps an ex-hippy. The local community includes both Algerians and Gitans (i.e. Romani in the UK). The other sociological point I took from the film is that Nina’s friend Alex decides to join the French military. I’ve noticed in other recent French films how this is a ‘positive’ decision to escape a sense of ennui in a rural community (see, for instance, Les combattants, 2014). I would tend to agree with Nina that being bored looking after vines is preferable to being killed in a pointless war. The decision to join the military, especially the army, is often seen in British films to be a more desperate move borne out of lack of employment opportunities.
I doubt that Meteorites will get a UK release, but I thought it was worth the 85 minutes of my time and I’ll look out for future films by Romain Laguna. Here’s the French trailer – no English subs but a good introduction to the visual style and Zéa Duprez’s performance: