Movie Review - Being 17 (Quand on a 17 Ans)

As much as this film is about masculinity and even homosexuality, weirdly the narrative is structured and is propelled with a pregnancy. Most movies are constructed in three acts, so it's not that innovative, but director André Techiné with co-writer Céline Sciamma (Tomboy and Girlhood) make each act here a trimester in a woman's pregnancy, a woman who is a character in this movie but not one of the main protagonists. Her presence is incidental and more a plot device, but she is representative because the movie is also about a teenage boy's relationship with his mother, as well as how boys perceive other boys and their parental relationships. Yes, envy and jealousy are factors here. Both emotions can be components of desire and one thing Techiné and Sciamma are good at is desire or else lust.

Techiné's film could be simply reduced to the idea of a person will pick on another whom they like. It's not a new idea but a person's aggressive and even threatening behavior toward another could just be hidden or repressed feelings of attraction. Here, that idea is played out between two teenagers who come from two different backgrounds. One is white and comes from a somewhat wealthy background. The other is black and comes from a more difficult background. The one from the difficult background attacks the one from the better background. The attack could be seen as resentment and covetousness. Yet, the filmmakers recognize that it's instead an internalized homophobia lashing out because the one boy can't reconcile his feelings of attraction.

Corentin Fila stars as Thomas Charpoul, a black kid living near the mountains of southwestern France. He lives on a farm that has chickens and goats with his mother. His father isn't in the picture. He doesn't seem to have a lot of money. During the winter, in order to get to school, he has to trek through a bit of the mountainside, which gets piled up with feet of snow. It looks like a long trek just so he can get to a bus stop where he then has to travel for who-knows-how-long to get to school. He does so without complaining. When his mom gets ill, before realizing she's pregnant, he takes on the responsibility of caring for her quietly and no complaints. Arguably, any complaints he does have, he bottles inside until it explodes.

Kacey Mottet Klein also stars as Damien Delille, a white kid who lives in the nice, suburban town near that aforementioned mountainside. His mom is a doctor. His dad is in the army. He lives in a nice home and has money. He's clearly a very privileged kid. Yet, he's not the most athletic teen. He's the last person picked in gym class for the basketball game. Out of the blue, Damien is tripped in math class. He falls flat on his face and it's Thomas who did it. From that point, Damien is bullied by Thomas. So much so, Damien has to go to a family friend in order to learn how to fight and defend himself. Things get worse when Damien's mom becomes the doctor for Thomas' mom forcing them to spend more time together.

What we see is a testosterone fueled, tough form of sensuality. It's not sadism. In some ways, it's a form of competitiveness, a physical competitiveness. For Thomas, it's a kind of release of frustration, not exactly a cry for attention but a need for connection that he doesn't know how to manifest verbally. It's probably due to the fact that he's so isolated on his farm and doesn't interact with people or even have that many friends, or any at all. He lives with his mom but doesn't seem to have many deep conversations with her, so he expresses himself through physical attacks.

It's directed at Damien for a myriad of reasons. Damien seems to have the life that Thomas wants. In certain ways, he wishes he was Thomas. As a gay person, I too at a young age had envious feelings toward other boys. It wasn't until I was older that I figured those envious feelings were misdirection, a misdirection for sexual desire.

For Damien, he doesn't need misdirection. After he witnesses Thomas skinny dip staring a little too long at Thomas' totally naked body, he realizes his same-sex attraction. He has ways of exploring that attraction than attacking men. Damien is aware of the Internet. With some of his behavior and the fact that he has a poster of David Bowie on his bedroom wall, it perhaps shouldn't come to much of a shock when Damien does admit to being gay.

Sandrine Kiberlain co-stars as Marianne Delille, the mother of Damien, the doctor to Thomas' mom. She's instrumental in bringing the two boys together and getting them to abandon their violent expressions of hidden love. Yet, the third trimester takes a detour that seems purely meant to give Kiberlain some overly dramatic beats to play. Maybe it's meant to put Damien and Thomas on equal footing, but it seems all together unnecessary. It's not enough to derail the tense yet beautiful nature of this film, putting it on a level above the more acclaimed gay film Moonlight.

Not Rated but contains full-frontal male nudity and scene of violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 56 mins.

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