No one in Hollywood would dare make a movie about a 25-30 year old actor taking up with an infatuated girl of 16. Not today. That’s the sort of thing that makes career-ending headlines when it happens off screen.
But “Spring Blossom” was written and directed by its young star, Suzanne Lindon, so it is seen almost exclusively from her character’s point of view.
She’s 21 and can still pass for 16, and is the daughter of actors, so she not only has a leg up in the business, but is plainly sophisticated for her age. And she’s French, growing up in a society that outsiders see as more “adult” about such things when perhaps that’s just a sign of patriarchal sexism, which also explains why they’re a bit late to embracing #MetToo.
But that “point of view” is the most important consideration of this wistful “romance,” a movie by a very young woman about what might draw a teenage girl to an older man who catches her eye.
Her character, Suzanne, is just social enough to sit in with her friends and overhear their gossip about school, boys and what not. But she’s not listening. She gets invited to parties, but goes so rarely that it’s a surprise when she finally shows up for one. Where she’s bored with a beer in her hand.
“I’m tired of everything.”
But there’s a handsome actor (Arnaud Valois) rehearsing a role just down the street from where she lives. He is bearded, rides a Vespa and smokes Gauloises Blondes as he chews his morning jam and bread at the cafe next to the theater. We don’t have to hear an interior monologue about what gets her attention, it’s all of that — the romance of his profession, the lure of “adulthood,” and a means of acquiring that all-important French label ahead of your peers.
In a pubescent rush, Suzanne starts learning how to wear makeup and plotting ways to put herself in the path of the mysterious Raphael. His scooter has an oil leak? On NO! How will he get to the cafe, to work and at the same time every day she can park herself in front of him?
We’ve seen her sweettalk her mother (Florence Viala) into a later curfew. But now she’s asking Dad (Frédéric Pierrot) the most awkward question he’s probably ever gotten from her.
“Do men prefer girls in skirts or pants? (in French, with English subtitles).
Next thing you know, she’s in the shortest skirt she can find and has struck up conversations with the actor. He is charmed, maybe smitten, and perhaps he’s even aware of what’s going on here. We notice, as she does, that he’s not kissing her on the cheek, but on the neck. He starts planning his day around seeing her.
And when he shares the overture to his favorite opera with her via headphones at “their” cafe, they fall into a perfectly choreographed seated-dance to its rapturous rhythms and melody.
But here’s something else we know about Raphael. He’s a bit bore with his world, too. As exotic as it can seem to an outsider — Suzanne sneaks into their rehearsals — acting in repertory can be a drag.
And the show The Constant Players are rehearsing? Strindbergh’s “Miss Julie,” about a girl’s infatuation with an older, engaged servant in the household.
Whatever is going on here, it’s chaste enough that the creepiest things about “Spring Blossom” are the search engine terms on its IMBb page and some of the faintly-icky comments there from non-critics who have seen it.
As a filmmaker, Lindon uses flights of fancy to capture Suzanne’s frame of mind, dancing down the middle of the street at this “first love,” studying how to attract a man’s attention in the most innocent ways, but drawing the line…at getting on his Vespa.
“My parents would kill me.”
She is secretive, guarded. And Raphael is cagey about declaring his state of mind as well. No dancing for him, but Valois suggests a couple of options as Raphael kisses her hand and, more flirtatiously, her neck. The more politically correct path might be he’s just using her to get deeper into “Miss Julie,” to experience the sensitivities of his character and the dilemma he’s in.
There’s a delicacy we feel in every scene in the film. When you’re directing yourself, viewers can’t say “She’s objectifying the character,” because sometimes, a teen changing clothes or breakfasting in her underwear is just a teenager being herself around her family.
Lindon takes these various licenses she gives herself and her movie to conjure up something thoughtful, tender and coming-of-age insightful in “Spring Blossom.” It’s not titillating and not particularly deep, either. But it allows the rest of the world to look at this relationship and see it for what it is, what it might be and what it shouldn’t be, and maybe take a breath before jumping to any more conclusions about it.
MPA Rating: unrated, adult subject matter
Cast: Suzanne Lindon, Arnaud Valois, Frédéric Pierrot, Florence Viala
Credits: Scripted and directed by Suzanne Lindon. A Kimstim release.
Running time: 1:13