Marie Baie des Anges, the debut feature of French director Manuel Pradal, opens with a sun-dappled shot of twin rocks at Nice's 'bay of angels.' Legend has it, we are told, that these rocks, shaped like the fins of 'angel sharks,' lured mariners to their death. An irresistible metaphor, one might say, for a feverish portrait of heartless youth, but one that the 30-year-old Pradal maintains with a good deal of style and confidence.

At the center of the heartlessness in this French Riviera setting is the title character, an alluring, headstrong 15-year-old who is something of a beacon to the local boys, not to mention the slightly older U.S. sailors looking for excitement while on shore leave. Seemingly carefree and childish, Marie (newcomer Vahina Giocante) plays the locals off against the sailors, but meets her match in Orso (Frederic Malgras), a 17-year-old 'lost boy' who patrols the beaches and adjoining woodland as the leader of a gang of unruly youths.

The enigmatic Marie, who is determined to make this summer a defining one, delights in being the center of attention, posing on the beach by day, riding with the boys in a fast car by night. Like a child up after midnight, she draws strength from weariness, delighting in a Riviera nightclub where she meets older men and sips expensive champagne. But, for all the fun and excitement, Marie is strangely drawn to the mercurial Orso, whom she grudgingly acknowledges as a kindred spirit.

Filming in wide-screen, often with a restless camera, Pradal establishes a fluid nervous tension from the film's opening moments, while securing that tension in a landscape of opposites. Gloriously sunny by day, in keeping with the Riviera's image of tourism and privilege, Pradal's movie turns shadowy and forbidding after sundown, when youthful exuberance gives way to an edgy battle for control. More than anything, this is a movie about need and longing-for sex, control, a gun.

Although she seems to be the most controlling, Marie is also among the most needy, all the more so because, in spite of her grown-up sexuality, she retains remnants of a childlike innocence. Marie wants to learn bird calls, but is it to subdue nature or summon it to her rescue? Like a 1990s variation on Nabokov's Lolita, Marie is intrigued by her own sexual power, even if she is bored by its consequences. It's perhaps inevitable that only Orso's fierce detachment can salvage her coming-of-age summer, only not in the way she imagined.

Giocante and Malgras make an attractive lawless couple, but Bonnie and Clyde their characters are not. Marie and Orso's foray into crime is more petulant than meaningful, even if Orso goes too far in the movie's defining act of violence. Marie Baie des Anges is an extremely stylish first feature, one that is likely to recall Rene Clement's Purple Noon for its evocation of sex and violence against the backdrop of a lush, sultry paradise.

--Ed Kelleher