By Julianna Perkins
Quebec director Simon Lavoie returned to the Toronto International Film Festival this year with a perverse gothic drama sure to stir conversation among the film crowd.
The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches, a French-language film subtitled in English, is Lavoie’s latest work, loosely adapted from Quebec author Gaétan Soucy’s French novel of the same name.
The film, which has a rating of 18A, centers on the disturbing life of the Soissons, a family of three living in almost absolute isolation in 1930's Quebec.
The father, played by Jean-François Casabonne, is a drunkard prone to Carrie-esque fits of religious fanaticism who oppresses the household with a ramshackle paranoia that pervades every aspect of life. His children, played by Antoine L’Écuyer and Marine Johnson, are conditioned to fear and distrust any element of the outside world and are taught that their father formed them from clay.
The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches lands its contorted focus on the young female child, Alice (Johnson), documenting her twisted upbringing at the hands of abusers, watching as she is forced to cut her hair and bind her chest, addressed only as “Brother” and “Son.” We follow along as one perverted disaster after another warps her youth, underscoring the film with the sense that femininity must equal pain.
This is not an easy film, nor is it a remotely pleasant film.
And yet somehow you stay magnetically attracted to the screen, observing incest, rape, torture, abuse, deformity, suicide and count after count of violence with the understanding that the inclusion of these acts is not gratuitous. This isn’t a jump-scare horror movie; instead, it brings up everything that you know is wrong and makes you sit in, consider it, and explore it, to the point that you almost feel disturbed.
Lavoie, who described the film as a “poetic period drama,” admitted that The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches was cinematographically influenced by the works of Pier Pasolini and a 1960's Czech film titled Spalovač Mrtvol or The Cremator. He said he wanted to create a “no compromises” film that stayed true to the “radical” nature of the original book by Soucy.
Filmed in black and white and woven through with tortured eroticism, The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches is visually both beautiful and raw. The lack of major dialogue allows the silence in the theatre to feel oppressive, broken only by moments of intense and orgasmic operatic symphony.
“Overwhelming” is the most apt word to describe The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches. Visually and emotionally, to watch this film is to sit wide-eyed in a room full of strangers that collectively exhale once the credits roll. It is 111 minutes of palpable disgust.
The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches is no one-off from Lavoie, whose previous film Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves, co-directed with Mathieu Denis, won Best Canadian Feature at last year’s TIFF festival, also earning a spot in the 2017 Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival.
The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches and its forceful acting worms its way into your memory in a way I feel few “scary” movies have had the power to do. Its intensity andconsistent use of close-ups will leave Johnson’s panicked eyes burned into your mind long after you step out of the theatre.