Starring Karelle Tremblay. In French, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
“Hey, Back to the Future,” someone yells at a hirsute fellow at the start of The Fireflies Are Gone. “What’s life like in 1985?” It’s meant as an insult, already ironic since it happens in a ’50s-style diner where teens still hang out. But everything in this unusually fresh coming-of-age dramedy from Quebec is soaked with nostalgia—in this case, major longing for a time before some of its characters were born.
High-schooler Léonie, who has just turned 18, is pissed about almost everything relating to the present. Played with unfussy force by Karelle Tremblay (who’s actually 23, and will remind more than a few viewers of Ellen Page in Juno), our bratty teen, aswim in oversized sweatshirts and bad attitude, is chilly with her mom (Marie-France Marcotte) and downright vicious with her stepdad (François Papineau), an oily right-wing radio star. She has enough reason to loathe his reactionary smarm on the face of it, but it turns out he also had something to do with the downfall of her real father (Luc Picard), a union head who failed to keep alive a paper mill once central to the life of Chicoutimi, a working-class town north of Quebec City.
With no real plans afoot—“The future lasts a long time,” she says with a shrug—Léo takes a job caretaking at a local baseball field. It actually suits her level of disinterest perfectly, and leaves her time to dabble in other things, like guitar lessons. These come courtesy of Steve, played by the excellent Pierre-Luc Brillant, who played one of the bullying older brothers in C.R.A.Z.Y. and provides some impressive guitar music here. Also the subject of that cinematic jibe at the start, Steve is pushing 40 and still lives in his mom’s basement. He is oddly content, however.
Writer-director Sébastien Pilote, who specializes in tales of disappearing old Quebec, is not interested in exploring an age-inappropriate romance here, and neither are the principals. Instead, it’s a beautifully shot and edited character study that captures some of the most elusive feelings that accompany the transition to adulthood. The fireflies of the title represent the changing environment of outer and inner worlds, and they lead to one of the most perfect movie endings of the year. Don’t miss it.