Canadian director Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette‘s 90s coming of age drama ‘Goddess of the Fireflies‘ (aka ‘La Déesse des mouches à feu‘), is set against the backdrop of a rural Québec town and grunge music’s rise. 16 year old Catherine and her friends are loitering between shacks and mall parking lots, partying and learning about life and love until a dramatic event will change them forever.

Spoiled rich kid goes full junkie when trying to fit in with the rebellious cool kids at school. While Catherine’s celebrating her 16th birthday, her parents fight each other and try to up one another in giving the most desired presents. Where mommy dearest presents a much wanted Discman and a copy of “The Story of Christiane F.“, dad decides to make it very simple and hands over a $1,000 cheque for his daughter to spend however she pleases. Not soon after, dad angrily drives off with mom’s Jeep, crashing the car spectacularly in their own front yard.

Goddess of the Fireflies,’ is an effective and memorable film that’s disturbing in several distinct ways. Based on the novel by Geneviève Pettersen and turned into a screenplay by Catherine Léger (‘Les Invisibles‘), the film focuses solely on Catherine’s change in behaviour when she hits puberty and rebelliously steps away from the “poser”-image everyone thinks of her at school. The story refers to popular films and bands from the 90s, to make it very clear this decade was hella bangin’.

The lack of discipline and caution serves as a constant thrilling sensation Catherine (Kelly Depeault – ‘L’Échappée‘) so hopelessly desires. After her crush finally starts paying attention to her, his friends embrace her into their circle, and Catherine quickly finds herself in a never ending pit of despair, filled with all sorts of drugs. Her new friends are just as bad at saying no, but with no real support system at home, she start relying on the hallucinogenic chemical, mescaline, which presents a new kind of escapism that calms her down. Unfortunately this is just the beginning of her drug use.

Barbeau-Lavalette’s shocking tale of adolescence is shamelessly tragic, but speaks a loud and clear message: drugs is bad for you, kids. Innocence turns into misery, and there’s no more turning back for any of these characters. This is as real as it gets. Catherine dives deeper into her very own psychosis by non-stop using and on top of that, she meets a new lover who seems to be the light at the end of the tunnel she’s been hoping for, but when tragedy strikes, all seems lost forever.

Kelly Depeault plays the chaotic Catherine, who triumphantly tells this cautionary tale of addiction, while she confidently crawls under your skin with an unreal performance. She plays along well with her fellow actors, who each give a different flavour to the story. The moments that are shocking and even graphic seem to come naturally, Depeault must’ve felt incredibly comfortable around the cast and crew, to bare herself in such a way. Eventually, this is her moment to shine and she’s destined for great things. Another little point of admiration is for the composer and music department, who do a phenomenal job at blending the score and the perfect choice of songs together. One of the many amazing things that continuously keeps you glued to the screen.

Goddess of the Fireflies‘ often feels too realistic to be fiction. Luckily, the writers decided to have it set in a different decade, so it seems like something from the past, even though these situations unfortunately still occur way too often. Shock value galore, ‘Goddess of the Fireflies‘ is directed by a pro who doesn’t sugar-coat the side-effects of drug addiction, yet disposes of the melodramatic formula, mainly thanks to the commanding performances and eloquent dialogue.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

FIFF20 Review – ‘La Déesse des mouches à feu’

Reviewed online (also screening at Festival International du Film Francophone de Namur), October 7, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 105 min.

PRODUCTION: An Entract Films release of a Coop Vidéo de Montréal production. Producer: Luc Vandal. Executive producer: Tim Ringuette.

CREW: Director: Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette. Screenplay: Catherine Léger (based on the novel by Geneviève Pettersen). Editing: Stéphane Lafleur. Cinematography: Jonathan Decoste. Score: Mathieu Charbonneau.

WITH: Kelly Depeault, Caroline Néron, Normand D’Amour, Éléonore Loiselle, Robin L’Houmeau, Antoine DesRochers, Noah Parker, Marine Johnson, Zeneb Blanchet, Ambre Jabrane.

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