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Synopsis: Summer is near and classes are coming to an end in an old industrial town on the edge of a bay. In this place, which is both a dead-end and a gateway to the world, Léo, a resourceful but unhappy girl of seventeen, meets Steve, an older man and reclusive guitarist. Leo lives with her mother and father-in-law, the populist radio show host who pushed the father she admires into exile after his union was disbanded. Frustrated and angry, it is through her relationship with Steve, set to the rhythm of their guitar lessons and her new summer job, that she’ll be able to find some kind of comfort and ultimately take flight. (eOne Films)
Starring: Karelle Tremblay, Pierre-Luc Brillant, and Luc Picard
Writers: Sébastien Pilote
Director: Sébastien Pilote
Running Time: 96mins
Directed by Sebastian Pilote, The Fireflies Are Gone tells the story of Léo, a girl living in a small Quebec town, with dreams of living anywhere but her hometown. Right off the bat, it’s important to say: The Fireflies Are Gone is far from being a bad film, it’s just not that great. However, the lead character, Léo, is one of the greatest things about the film. She’s someone the audience will likely connect to. She feels like a real person; largely due to a great performance from Karelle Tremblay.
Pilote runs into trouble once he introduces the supporting characters. Steve (Brillant) is probably the one that sticks out the most because he’s in the film the most. We never gain any insight into why he’s there, or why Léo starts seeing him – it just kind of happens. As the film progresses, Pilote doesn’t offer any explanation or insight into why events are happening the way they are. The motivations for both character’s actions remain murky and unclear. It’s a conscious decision, but it’s a frustrating one for viewers. The same goes for Léo’s mom, whom she seems to dislike. While a surface-level explanation is presented as to why, it doesn’t seem nearly satisfying enough to warrant such a decision from the lead character.
Pilote has lots of ideas about what he wants to say in The Fireflies Are Gone, but the message is never really clear. The film feels more like a series of disjointed fragments, rather than a full, coherent film. There are fragments that are interesting, and there are ones that are dull; such is the story with most films. Yet, The Fireflies Are Gone really struggles with this.
The fragmentation affects the pacing with the film. Sitting at 96 minutes, there are still points in the film that felt much longer than others. At the same time, there are sequences that are unequivocally pull the audience in. The biggest problem with the film is that it doesn’t feel like Pilote had a singular vision for it. There’s nothing that brings it all together. It addresses so many different themes that, in the end, it doesn’t explore any of them in depth.
A strong positive for the film is that it feels very personal, at least to a Canadian. The feeling of wanting to get out of your hometown, and to take on the world, certainly isn’t a new one, but The Fireflies Are Gone portrays it in a way that makes it feel personal to the viewer. It captures the confusion of adolescence, and how complex the world seems to someone just starting their adult life. It doesn’t spend much time focusing on high school itself; instead, Pilote elects to capture Léo discovering life past school and education. The Fireflies Are Gone captures Léo becoming an individual, separate from her family and her friends at school. Whether Léo is discovering that her parents are real people with real flaws, or confronting her complicated feelings about romance, the film feels honest. That’s the biggest thing working for The Fireflies Are Gone, and it’s a huge positive. Despite its fragmented feel, the honesty and realism help to anchor the film and keep it afloat.
Adding to the other positives, the score is great. It’s a quiet and subtle one, but it fits perfectly with everything happening in the film. It’s also a very nice film to look at – on that front, it’s actually quite impressive given the budget. The technical aspects are above what one would expect for a film like this.
The story is the film’s major weakness, but it’s also its greatest strength. There are good things about it, and there are things that absolutely do not work. The film never truly feels connected, which is a big issue. While it’s certainly entertaining to watch Tremblay traveling around her Quebec town with different people, the film never feels complete because it doesn’t make its purpose clear. Saying that, each individual fragment is interesting, and some are even great. The Fireflies Are Gone is still a film worth catching at TIFF despite its flaws.