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50th San Francisco International Film Festival at PFA

Monday, May 7, 2007
7:00 p.m. On Fire
Claire Simon (France/Switzerland, 2006)

(Ça brûle). Director Claire Simon offers a smartly perceptive examination of adolescence at its most destructive in this drama about a self-absorbed fifteen-year-old girl named Livia. Summer has begun and Livia has nothing to do except ride her horse around the small Provençal town where she lives with her divorced mother. On top of her horse, Livia feels regal and above the fray of peers who tease and pester her. When Livia's father takes her horse back to his farm, she loses her sense of place and power, and channels her energy into an obsession with a local fireman, Jean, who is married, raising a baby, and old enough to be her father. Jean is kind to the restless girl, maybe even a little attracted to her, and Livia's infatuation grows. She pursues Jean with a reckless disregard for anything other than her own intense romantic feelings. The drama unfolds in a desultory fashion, and Simon lingers on scenes of Livia and her friends teasing each other and flirting with danger. These cruel and thoughtless acts of youth lead to a climax both inevitable and tragic. Meanwhile, Jean's risky profession makes for some stunning fire sequences, shot over a period of two years in the dry Mediterranean countryside, a directorial dedication to authenticity reflecting Simon's experience as a documentary filmmaker. Simon stokes On Fire with an unfettered, impromptu quality and wayward rhythm that beautifully underscore Livia's impulsive, unrestrained behavior that feeds the inferno of adolescence.

—Beverly Berning

• Written by Simon, Jérôme Beaujour, Nadège Trebal. Photographed by Pascale Granel. With Camille Varenne, Gilbert Melki, Kader Mohamed, Marion Maintenay. (111 mins)