It’s close to ironic that the most insightful coming-of-age film in decades comes from a man in his seventies. Andre Techine’s “Being 17” is also his best film since 1997’s “Wild Reeds” and it tells the story of an awakening between a pair of gay French teens.
Being 17 is a confusing enough time, emotions collide inside a person in new and confusing ways almost daily. Techine is an experienced director with what turns out to be a very clear memory of what it’s like to be just short of adulthood. Co-written with Celine Sciamma, “Being 17” is also a film about romance.
Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein), a young adult filled with self-doubt and angular features, is interested in his classmate, Thomas (Corentin Fila). Thomas is the adopted bi-racial son of a farming couple with fertility issues. The pair’s first interaction borders on hostile: Thomas feels uncomfortable with Damien’s fashion sense and lingering stares. So, Thomas trips him in class and later gives him a rather aggressive shove.
Things get complicated when Damien’s mother, Marianne (played by the well-cast Sandrine Kiberlain), pays a house call to Thomas’ parents’ home, which is in the middle of nowhere at the top of the Pyrenees. Realizing the arduous journey, Damien’s mother offers to let Thomas stay with them in town. Marianne is most-likely oblivious to the fact that she is putting the match to a powder keg of raging hormones, unexplored sexuality and awakened realities with her offer. Or perhaps she does know and only wants her son to be happy? Or, since her husband is deployed in the military, maybe Marianne is interested in the aspiring veterinarian. After all, everyone is looking for love.
There are plenty of common emotions in the coming-of-age romantic drama that should help it reach a larger audience than many of its predecessors. I was a fan of “Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss” with Sean Hayes as Billy, the struggling young photographer who has grown tired of being the odd man out in the relationship world. Billy was released in 1998 and the world has changed in those eighteen years. In some ways, the world is a more open and accepting place, in many ways it is not. “A Single Man” from 2009 featured Colin Firth as an English professor coping with the death of his boyfriend. In each of those previous films, universal truths came through via specific individuals who happened to be gay and the films were both excellent. “Being 17” – opening Friday, Dec 2 at Ken Cinema – is full of youthful love and confusion. The fact that the couple involved is gay only adds to the depth and drama.