Les fourmis rouges (Red Ants) (Director: Stéphan Carpiaux): You only need to look at the film’s poster to determine the appeal of Stéphan Carpiaux’s debut feature. The stunningly beautiful Déborah François plays 16-year-old Alex, who lives alone with her father and helps him run his garage in the Belgian countryside. Unfortunately, the film itself isn’t really anything special, and if it weren’t for the magnetism of young Ms. François, I probably wouldn’t have watched this until the predictably upbeat ending.
Alex and her father Franck are still grieving the loss of her mother and his wife in an auto accident several years before. As Alex grows into womanhood, she begins to resemble her mother more and more, even as she attempts to replace her in Franck’s life. This leads to some awkward longing glances between the two, though neither seem articulate enough to deal with this taboo directly. Her father’s debts are piling up as he neglects his business, and he’s rebuffing the efforts of Anne, a bookkeeper who wants to help but who complicated things years before when she expressed her romantic interest in Franck too soon after his wife’s death. Alex is also a loner, and despite her looks, only seems to be bait for teasing from the boys at school.
In order to help with the mounting bills, she takes a job looking after Irène, an older English woman who lives with her adopted “nephew” Hector, who is a musical genius but also an oddball with no friends. Predictably, the relationship with Irène starts out rocky, thaws a bit, and then chills again. The woman is wholly dependent upon Hector and refuses to let him pursue his musical education. There is an entirely predictable subplot about her trying to prevent him from attending the Conservatory and another unconvincingly linking Alex and Hector romantically.
It was frustrating to watch these inarticulate characters struggle to try to deal with their pent-up emotions. As well, there were so many clichés in the storytelling that it became distracting. Of course, Alex runs away from home wearing a clingy dress, and then is caught in a downpour. Combining the use of pathetic fallacy (because she is sad, it rains) with the chance to show her soaking wet in a clingy dress might have seemed economical to the director, but it made me cringe.
To make matters even more confusing, there is a repeated story about the progression of a line of red ants that made no sense to me, unless it had something to do with the recurring images of windmills. I don’t think I’m that deaf to metaphor; I just couldn’t put it together.
Les fourmis rouges is not exactly a terrible film. It’s just not as serious as it thinks it is, nor as fresh. The exception, of course, is Déborah François, whom I think I could watch in anything from now on.