Much like the other French competition entry in this year’s Berlinale, Being 17 (Quand on a 17 ans) is about the lives that play out in and around a school. But whereas Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things to Come focuses primarily on teachers, with a heavily philosophical and Parisian slant, André Téchiné’s new film deals with two students in a more isolated, mountainous region.
Thomas (Corentin Fila) lives on a family farm so remote that it takes him an hour and a half to get to school. Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) lives in town with his mother Marianne (Sandrine Kiberlain), a doctor, while his father is away on military duty. The two boys dislike each other for unspecified reasons, but when Thomas’ mother needs to be hospitalised due to pregnancy complications, Marianne suggests that he come stay with her and Damien.
The turbulent bond between the two youths is at the centre of this gripping, albeit conventional, drama. Being 17 adopts a three-act form, structured around the trimesters of the French school year. Like the young protagonists, the storytelling matures progressively, culminating in a frank, moving exploration of sexual awakening and grief. Téchiné handles the material deftly and with restraint, foregoing shock value in favour of genuine emotion in the rare instances when the imagery gets (somewhat) more explicit.
The slow-burning emotional warmth contrasts beautifully with the chilly landscapes, and is supported by strong performances: newcomer Fila brings a raw, natural intensity to proceedings, and works well alongside former child actor Mottet Klein, whose rebellious charisma is complemented by an ever-increasing talent in front of the camera. As for the adults, Kiberlain lends her customary soulfulness to a motherly role that could have felt under-served in lesser hands.
While it may lack the star power of Things to Come, especially in terms of international marketability, Being 17 is ultimately the more rewarding experience, the kind of little film that deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible, especially by those in the same age bracket as Thomas and Damien.
|What||Being 17, film review: Berlin 2016|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
30 Mar 16 – 30 May 16, Being 17 UK release date TBC. Times vary according to cinema
|Price||£ determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more information on the Berlinale's official website|