★★☆☆☆

“Your cock and your words fill me with joy.” Crass to the point of being offensive, these lyrics – from one song of the soundtrack to Gold for Dogs – effectively sum up this deplorable coming-of-age debut feature. Nonsensical and tonally misguided, we travel from France’s Atlantic coast to Paris and back, but go nowhere.

The sound of vigorous love making meets our ears before our eyes as the film opens with a soft core porn scene set to the backdrop of sand dunes and crashing waves. The man, having finished, stands up and walks off to go for a swim. Characteristic of the kind of misogynistic callousness that Gold for Dogs will treat its central character, Esther (Tallulah Cassavetti), throughout, she hastily dresses and dutifully trots after her lover.

Very clear, then, from the first few moments that Jean (Corentin Fila) just isn’t that to her. But writing in her diary where, how and how many times she and this contemptible dreamboat have had sex, Esther proceeds to hang around like a bad smell at Jean’s going away party. Though his season at this seaside resort is done, he has time for one last conquest – which Esther witnesses and still proceeds to throw herself at him before he leaves.

Yes, it really is that pathetically bad. However, we hit lower depths after Jean has said his not-so-fond farewells as a friendless Esther attends a beach house party. Tarted up in a short, revealing Jelly Bean dress that she will wear for the rest of the film, she is coerced into a game whereby she’s locked in a bathroom with a stranger who essentially proceeds to sexually assault her in a bath. If the objective of this scene is to shock an audience, it succeeds, but it is no less disgusting for this.

The faint suggestion that Esther, 18, had lost her virginity earlier that summer and now must be keen to jerk off every guy in town is par for the course for the first part of a film which really is vile. Scowling, sour faced and forlorn at the departure of Jean, it’s no surprise that Esther wants to take to the road. Yet tenderness is nowhere to be found in Gold for Dogs, and even when Esther comes across the truck stop that her mum (Julie Depardieu) runs, she is met with contempt. After taking a train to Paris in a desperate, deluded attempt to rekindle affections with Jean, Esther is rebuffed; she tries to pick up a waiter in a bar; she is mugged in the street.

That just about covers it. It’s a real pity that the script and direction are so desperately poor as we really do want to feel sympathy, compassion, ANYTHING, for Esther, and Cassavetti seems to be giving it her all. Taking refuge at a convent near Montparnasse station, the final portion of Gold for Dogs takes an odd, and potentially more interesting turn, but unfortunately by this time any interest you may have had is long gone.

At a guess, Gold for Dogs sets out to champion female empowerment, self-determination and criticise the way in which young women are cruelly used, discarded and objectified by men, but it sadly doesn’t achieve any of this. Anything potentially profound there may be to say is lost in this squalid, tactless film that boasts the occasional stunning vista, but nothing of any true substance.

The BFI London Film Festival 2020 takes place from 7-18 October. bfi.org.uk/london-film-festival

Matthew Anderson | @MattAndo63