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Camping du Lac

After her vehicle breaks down, Belgian holidaymaker settles on a camping site next to a lake inhabited by a mythical creature - strange parable shows at the 41st Turin International Film Festival

A Belgian holidaymaker (played by the director Eléonore Saintagnan) drives across the countryside of Brittany (France’s northwesternmost and only Celtic region). She is also the film narrator. Her vehicle lets her dow, and the local garage informs her that it will take several days for the spare parts to arrive. They direct her to the local camping site, a place inhabited by a motley crew of flamboyant residents. A dangerous monster dwells inside the idyllic Guerlédan lake nearby. They say that the animal measures six metres (excluding the fin), and that it once swallowed a man’s leg. The problem is that the creature is as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster, and there have been no recent sights.

A naked woman swims inside the lake in fish-like motion, with her protuberant derriere sprouting up as she dives in. She is far less subtle and cunning than the monster, and perhaps a lot more beautiful and appealing. Our protagonist watches her with a keen interest. In fact, the underwater monster turns out to be a mere McGuffin rather than the centre pillar of the plot. The loose narrative structure gradually moves towards the individual residents, with our protagonist gradually blending into the community, and becoming a mere secondary character (even her voice-over gradually disappears). She becomes so fascinated with the place that she decides to sell her car.

To boot, scenes from the life of St Corentin are inserted into the story, with a particular focus on his ability to heal and to talk to fish. He was one of the seven founding saints of Brittany. A few sentences in the near-extinct Breton language add the final touch of exoticism to the film.

Intended as some sort of modern-day parable about the forces of nature upon a closely-knit community, Camping du Lac fails to grip throughout. The subplots (such as an American man called Wayne, and a middle-aged woman constantly cooking) are banal and contrived, and they don’t gel together into anything more robust. The very low budget (the director explains that she only had funding for a short film) makes the more magical moments look clumsy and precarious. Saintagnan was just too ambitious, setting out to create elaborate settings (such as the reenactments of the Breton Saint) on a shoestring, instead of using her financial handicap as a catalyst for radical experimentation. A cheesy music score and the extra-sweet country songs played by Wayne on his guitar also help to infuse the movie with a sense puerility. A surprising denouement is heartwarming, and will put a smile on your face.

A couple of child characters provide the film with a little ingenuousness. The director wants to comment on the complex relationship between childhood and adulthood, it seems. Had it not been for the very graphic lake nudity and animal butchering scenes, Camping du Lac would be suitable for children and adult alike. At times, the outcome is more primary school than Tim Burton. Incidentally, the American director has a major exhibition at the impressive National Museum of Cinema of Turin taking place right noe, at the same time as the film premiere.

Camping du Lac shows at the 41st Turin International Film Festival. This is Eléonore Saintagnan’s debut feature. He director specialises in short and medium-length films that play with the border between documentary cinema and fictio

By Victor Fraga - 28-11-2023

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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