A complex and multi-layered tale of teenage testosterone-fuelled feud and love, Being 17 premiered in the Berlin Film festival to a boisterous ovation. The prolific French director André Téchiné has already authored more than 20 films in a career spanning nearly five decades. He is considered a reliable exponent of the second generation of French New Wave directors, and his creative talent has not slackened with the years.
Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) lives with his mother Marianne (Sandrine Kimberlain), a doctor, while his father is on duty with the French Army in a war abroad. He is bullied by his classmate Thomas (Corentin Fila), whose mother is ill. Thomas is the black son of white adoptive parents. Ironically, it is precisely Marianne who cares for the mother of her own son’s bully. She is determined to make Thomas’s mother healthy again and to help Thomas to improve his grade in school.
Marianne invites Thomas to live with her family so that he can be closer to school and improve his performance, thereby forcing her son Damien to live under the same roof as his own bully. Marianne forbids the boys to fight but, to her disappointment, they continue to engage in vicious altercations. In film is set in the snowy Midi-Pyrénées, which provides a tranquil backdrop to the tense drama that unfolds. Kimberlain’s performance is superb, making Marianne a very reasonable, passionate and likable mother, wife, doctor and friend.
Unexpectedly, these brawls gradually morph into affection and sexual attraction, and the boys slowly become ardent lovers. Being 17, however, does not presented as a gay movie. In fact, the words “gay” is never mentioned in the film, and not because homosexuality is a taboo, but instead because it’s not an issue at all. Gay romance is treated just as naturally as heterosexual romance.
The originality of Téchiné’s film lies in his subtle exploration of sexuality and national identity. He consistently challenges gay and immigrant clichés, instead giving his characters an equalitarian and human treatment. Such type of work is very urgent in an increasingly socially conservative France. The country recently saw some of the largest anti-equality marriage demonstrations in the world, and it has struggled to integrate immigrants into their society.
Téchiné rarely gives interviews and makes political statements. Instead, he directs films dealing with all the taboos and wounds of French society in a gentle, touching and natural way. Being 17 deals soulfully portrays many explosive themes – immigration, adoption, homosexuality and war – without drawing any conclusions.
Being 17 was presented on February 14th at the 66th Berlinale as part of the official competition. André Téchiné is a very familiar face at the event, and it is very possible that either him or Kimberlain will take an award home. DMovies is live at the event and will continue top bring the best and most audacious films to you.