Being 17 (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): A tricky matter of their young hearts

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French film “Being 17” is an intimate adolescent drama revolving around a difficult situation between its two young heroes struggling with a tricky matter of their young hearts. Calmly presenting the dynamic interactions between them, the movie gradually engages us via its dexterous storytelling, and it often touches us more than expected while steadily rolling its story and characters toward the eventual arrival point.

At the beginning, we get to know Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) and Thomas (Corentin Fila), two very different teenage boys attending the same high school in an Alpine village. While Thomas is the adopted son of a couple running a cattle farm, Damien is the only son of the village doctor and her solider husband, and the movie slowly establishes their respective domestic environments during its first act. Although it may be better for him to move to a spot closer to his school, Thomas prefers to stay around his parents for helping run the farm, and it is apparent that he and his parents care a lot about each other. While his father is frequently absent due to his military missions, Damien has happily lived with his mother Marianne (Sandrine Kiberlain), and he also get some boxing lesson from a neighbor who is an old military buddy of his father.

On one day, Thomas commits an act of bullying to Damien during one of their classes, and we observe how the situation becomes more tense as he continues to bully Damien. While Damien initially maintains his passive attitude without any attempt to fight against Thomas, he eventually comes to clash hard with Thomas in front of everyone, and both of them are subsequently brought to the school principal while accompanied with Marianne, who already met Thomas when she visited his home for his mother’s health problem.

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As feeling sorry for Thomas, Marianne decides to help him a bit, so she suggests that he should stay in her home for a while to improve his school grades. Of course, neither Thomas nor Damien welcomes this suggestion, but Thomas reluctantly agrees to go to Marianne’s house after persuaded by his parents, and he and Damien soon find themselves studying together despite feeling quite awkward.

As time goes by and they accordingly enter the next semester, things get a little better than before. Although they have a rough physical fight outside at one point, Thomas and Damien subsequently become a bit friendlier to each other, probably because that fight resolved whatever had been accumulated between them. In addition, Thomas begins to get higher grades than before, and Marianne is certainly pleased about that.

However, we soon begin to notice another kind of tension developed between Thomas and Damien. It turns out that Damien has been quite attracted to Thomas, and there is an amusing scene where he virtually coerces Thomas to take him to a place belonging to some older guy whom Damien encountered via the Internet. When Damien finds that he is not particularly attracted to that guy, Thomas comes to spend some interesting time with that guy instead, and Damien has no choice but to wait alone for Thomas’ return.

This new tension between Damien and Thomas eventually reaches to another breaking point, and they subsequently become distant to each other, but then there comes an unexpected incident which devastates Damien and his mother a lot. Although he is not so eager to get closer to them again, Thomas comes to stay near them anyway, and Marianne, who already knows what was going on between her son and Thomas, surely appreciates his emotional support.

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As leisurely moving from one narrative point from each other, the screenplay by director André Téchiné and his co-writer Céline Sciamma carefully builds up the emotional momentum around its main characters, and that aspect is reflected well by the beautiful seasonal changes of the rural background of the movie. Thanks to cinematographer Julien Hirsch, there are several vivid landscapes shots to be appreciated, and I particularly like how the snowy background accentuates the restrained mood of the first act of the film.

The movie depends a lot on its main cast members, and they are all solid in their respective roles. While Kacey Mottet Klein, a young Swiss actor who drew my attention for the first time via his unforgettable lead performance in Ursula Meier’s “Sister” (2012), ably conveys to us his character’s emotional conflict without any false note, Corentin Fila effectively complements his co-star with his equally sensitive performance, and Sandrine Kiberlain is also terrific as another crucial part of the story.

On the whole, “Being 17” is worthwhile to watch for good reasons, and I admire the competent direction of Téchiné, who previously directed “The Witnesses” (2007) and “The Girl on the Train” (2009) and recently made “Farewell to the Night” (2019). Although it may require some patience from you due to its rather slow narrative pacing, the movie works well as a fascinating character drama packed with mood and details, and I assure you that you will not be disappointed if you are looking for something more thoughtful and matured than those brainless summer blockbuster flicks.

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