Dir-scr:Jean Paul Civeyrac. France 2010. 85mins


Emo/Goth culture and its attendant melancholia come to French art cinema in Young Girls In Black, Jean Paul Civeyrac’s languorous but distinctive study of teenage ennui. Civeyrac – whose films include Through the Forest (CH) and All These Fine Promises - has a cult following among the aesthete hardcore of French cinephiles, but is yet to make a splash internationally.

Two moodily charismatic leads should help find this quietly stylish item a berth with the nichiest of niche buyers.

Young Girls certainly won’t break him big-time, but it could give his reputation a discreet nudge, perhaps even win him a younger audience among more inquisitive French studentry. Two moodily charismatic leads should help find this quietly stylish item a berth with the nichiest of niche buyers.

The film starts with a suicide attempt by moody emo-styled teenager Noémie (Lhomeau), whose room is decorated with her own downbeat artwork. A year later, she’s supposedly on the mend but still flinging sullen invective at her hard-working single mother (Acron). Back at school, Noémie’s best friend and cultural twin Priscilla (Tissier) is having boyfriend and study troubles. In front of their jeering classmates, Priscilla helps the defiantly highbrow Noémie – a promising flautist – to read her class project on German Romantic poet Kleist, whose suicide the girls see as the coolest thing ever. The duo decide to follow Kleist’s lead and make a pact to say, ‘Goodbye uncool world’.

The problem is, they can’t get hold of the sleeping pills they need, and also land in trouble with the police after venting their contempt for the bourgeoisie all over their head teacher’s car. After a hugely awkward party at Noémie’s grandparents, the girls decide that it’s time for them both to make the fatal plunge, but things don’t quite go to plan. The film’s coda follows one of the duo’s apparent rehabilitation but leaves us wondering what her future holds.

Young Girls in Black resembles a stylised, hyper-aesthetic take on the teen-alienation material associated with US directors such as Gus Van Sant or Gregg Araki - although the girls’ cerebral affiliations have a decidedly French slant. Civeyrac doesn’t overdo the emphasis on youth-tribe trappings – although there’s plenty of Goth and emo regalia on show chez Priscilla – but concentrates to intimate effect on the girls’ mutually dependent, implicitly sapphic bond. Their folie à deux carries echoes of Heavenly Creatures and My Summer of Love, but with a powerful streak of abstraction. References to Kleist and extracts from Brahms emphasise the film’s high-culture dimension, highlighting the debt to German romanticism and taking the story’s scope beyond the confines of contemporary youth-cult realism.

The two young leads play for the most part in a low-emoting register that sometimes verges on Bresson minimalism, although they also excel at manic outbursts: much of the time, sullen glares have the desired effect. Acron is also good as the long-suffering parent embodying the reality principle. Overall, the film altogether bears Civeyrac’s stylistic stamp – long takes and extended horizontal camera moves giving the film an almost dream-like quality, emphasized by actual dream sequences set in thick fog. Hichame Alaouié’s photography, with its eerily faded palette, makes the film a very elegant and idiosyncratic package.

Production company: Les Films Pelléas

International sales: Les Films du Losange, (+33)1 44 43 87 10

Producer: Philippe Martin

Cinematography: Hichame Alaouié

Editor: Louise Narboni

Production designer: Brigitte Brassart

Main cast: Elise Lhomeau, Léa Tissier, Elise Acron