'Les Particules' Review: A Coming-Of-Age Movie Tinged With Sci-Fi And The Supernatural [Fantasia Film Festival 2019]

You might, understandably, roll your eyes and scoff at a doe-eyed person reminding you that "We're all just stardust." When gazing at the stars, the desired feeling of oneness and connection with the universe and all its inhabitants, at least for me, is nowhere to be found. And yet, films that sew a little bit of celestial mystery into the lining without falling into sentimentality can successfully widen their scope. Blaise Harrison's first narrative feature Les Particules is a welcome addition to the oft-treaded coming-of-age genre by tinging it with sci-fi. Pierre-Andre (Thomas Daloz), or P.A. as everyone calls him, and his friends are disinterestedly finishing off high school in a town on the Swiss border with France. Preoccupied with their daily successes and struggles, P.A and his gang stumble through their transition to impending adulthood. All the while, 400 feet below them the Large Hadron Collider attempts to fulfill man's mission to recreate the Big Bang. With even more energy than a self destructive teenager, the world's biggest machine accelerates and collides particles in the hopes of studying them, leading mankind towards greater understanding of the universe. If it the LHC feels like a metaphor for growing up, then it's subtle, and ultimately undeveloped in the film. Harrison does succeed in creating a mood of unease that adds a layer of mystery to the bildungsroman.P.A  is a timid boy, with a mop of unkempt hair that allows him to retreat behind his fringe when necessary. He takes the bus to school, plays in a band with his friends, rides his bike around the winding streets of Gex and sits in on drug deals with a shady manchild, who operates out of his garage. These are some of the finer scenes, as Harrison deftly reproduces adolescent ennui and masculine dynamics, with the help of Colin Leveque's kinetic camerawork and an eerie score from composer Èlg. Much of the film focuses on P.A.'s gaze. How he looks at young women, how he watches on as his crush kisses a close friend, and his bewildered look when he sees the terrain outside the bus window shift and move. The voyeurism never feels objectifying, but instead feels like a shy curiosity and a form of distancing. P.A is someone who seems more than comfortable staying on the periphery of the party, with one foot outside the door. That his gaze is rarely translated into words or easily readable emotions is not an issue in and of itself. However, when the drama escalates and his emotional state seems unchanged, it feels like a missed opportunity to show, if not character development, then character depth.Things start to veer into the supernatural when, early one morning on the way to school, P.A. observes a meadow shift and move. Maybe it's a side-effect of going off his ADHD tablets or maybe it's atoms colliding and shifting the landscape before his eyes. There are a few more of these moments of off-kilter perspective, but it all comes to a head when one of P.A's friends disappears during a mushroom trip while camping. This is where the film stops short of its early potential. P.A, who seems oddly detached and unconcerned about the whereabouts of his friend, offers no answers to the headmaster who asks for a detailed run-down on the night. Moreover, the near total exclusion of parents from the film, though it might be out of an attempt to spotlight the teenagers, limits the scope rather than deepening it. Though P.A goes on a guided tour of the LHC during which there is plenty of metaphysical discussion about the potentially destructive advancements in science, Les Particules doesn't have an opinion on the Hadron Collider. The tiny blips in P.A's perspective, fracturing his reality, don't add up to some big government conspiracy or widespread unexplained phenomena. This isn't an inherent problem; not all questions need to be answered. However, the expectation that the two streams will collide to create a new energy is never fully met. The fine balance between grounding the phenomenon in science but limiting its perception to the protagonist translates as indecision, rather than subtlety. The soothing, yet sudden ending is a microcosm of the film's strengths and weaknesses: delicately touching, but unsure of how we got there.Les Particules is a quiet, beautifully-rendered film that shows great promise for its director. Despite the missed opportunity to explore its two narrative threads more in depth, the film is a prime example of the ways a popular genre like the coming of age can be infused with the supernatural. /Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10