Whilst not Pascal Plante’s first feature film, having previously made doc La génération porn in 2014, Fake Tattoos (Les faux tatouages) is the director’s first step into feature-length drama. And it’s quite the first step – one that definitely carries all of the do-or-die energy of what feels like a debut. Having admirably worked as writer, director and editor on this project, Plante now continues his clearly profound interest in youth culture, presenting the seductive tale of a new romance between music superfans Mag (Rose-Marie Perreault) and Théo (Anthony Therrien).
Lead character Théo is the brooding teenage outsider, whose excellent wardrobe is made up exclusively of retro band t-shirts – picture everything from Dead Kennedys to The Clash. Music defines almost every aspect of his being, but from behind his striking shower of scruffy long black curls, he shoots pained, furtive glances at the world and seems to be shyly hiding something. He wears heart on his sleeve, but a little further up he carries an intricate dark tattoo.
Initially, we see this young adolescent slink around the streets of Montreal with nothing but the urban sounds of the city for background music. A quick stop at an off-license gives us a clue that it’s Théo’s birthday, as a man behind the counter wishes him a happy birthday after checking his ID. After chugging his can, he stumbles into a very real looking concert, where seemingly hundreds of black-clad Québécois seem to mosh pit ferociously together.
In the wake of the concert, it doesn’t take Mag long to unexpectedly gravitate towards Théo. In even less time, she quickly rumbles tattoo as a fake, and tells him that a boy with a fake tattoo probably wouldn’t make for too harmful a rebound. Spring-loaded with quick-witted, direct one liners like this, Mag is an assertive, Courtney Love-esque dream, who’s quite irresistible.
Her blonde hair is dip-dyed pink, but her fringe and clothes are scruffy and edgy in a way that Théo’s sister describes as spelling out “Fuck the world, fuck the police, I go to heavy metal concerts.” She radiates self-control, and has no shame in declaring that her muscial tastes stretch fro Rammstein to Queen B. Alongside Théo, they quickly fall into a balance of personalities that is quite simply magnetic, and will have you biting at the vicarious chomp throughout. In fact, it’s a sign of how much you’re enjoying sharing their romance that the scenes where only one of these characters is present can’t help but seem instantly weaker.
Plante definitely manages to stick to his strengths, though, with this film being absolutely wall-to-wall with brilliantly observed dialogue. The characters’ exchanges in this film are so on point and fresh, they often almost seem ad libbed. The film’s sort of grungey, Nirvana-esque cinematography also always manages to mix colour with hints of darkness too, creating a very uniform visual style that definitely sucks you into a very clearly defined world of musical culture.
What’s equally captivating is the in-between state that Fake Tattoos manages to so accurately portray. Théo repeatedly chaperones Mag round on the handle bars of his bike, like they were almost still children. And whilst both seem to have a constant (incredibly sweet) concern about disappointing the other, there’s never any judgement on either side of their very youthful foibles and shortcomings. They accept each other in an unquestioning way that perhaps you can only ever truly experience at their age.
That isn’t to say that the characters are free of the blemishes of adulthood, though. As the curious shadow in Théo’s dark eyes slowly seems to threaten the relationship’s edenic joy, you can’t help but worry that the hypercharged, intoxicating goodness of the chemistry between Therrien and Perreault is going to come to an end. They will definitely leave you wanting more.
Having already found slots at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival and the Generation 14plus section of the 68th Berlinale (which often harbours a few gems), Fake Tattoos is undeniably a deft character study – one that I would definitely love to see reaching international young audiences everywhere on VOD platforms. It’s yet another Quebecois indie that’s hard not to love, and seems perfectly placed at the forefront of the focus on Canadian cinema at this year’s European Film Market.
It’s also an excellent example of the variety of equally talented, but very distinct young Canadian voices that all seem to be coming up together, by hook and by crook, in the wake of Xavier Dolan. Let’s hope we see lots more like this in the coming months and years.