Restless teenagers Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) and Thomas (Corentin Fila) are classmates in rural France, although neither one likes the other and they engage in round after round of angry schoolyard fisticuffs. Damien is a poet who wants to muscle up, and takes self-defence classes as an extra-curricular. Thomas is a bi-racial son of adoptive parents who treks an hour through the mountainous countryside to get to school every day.
When the 17-year-old loners end up living under the same roof after Thomas’s mother has to go to the hospital, both boys realize they may be hiding something: a desire for the other.
The new drama from French auteur André Téchiné is most impactful in the small moments between the two male leads. The filmmaker trusts that Klein and Fila can dig into these complicated teens. We slowly begin to register a lust, initially shown in measured ways that soon become harder for the characters to repress. It is not at all a surprise when we realize how deep these emotions run, a testament to the ability of the young actors.
Téchiné has a masterful grip on both young stars and the film’s boundless rural setting. Taking place against the mountainous French Pyrenees, a space of frequently shifting temperatures and seasons, Being 17 beautifully evokes the drastic changes befitting its protagonists. Cinematographer Julien Hirsch captures the grandeur of the space, letting the fog and snow work as metaphors for the confusion of the characters. The screenwriters also give Damien and Thomas room to explore themselves in this wild environment, without the need to utter words.
“The movie is not really about deciding whether you’re gay or straight—those terms are never spoken. It’s about the chemistry of two people at a moment in time.” (Stephen Holden, The New York Times)
“A richly observed coming-of-age drama about two teenage boys who are drawn to each other with a complicated mix of attraction, repulsion, tenderness, and aggression.” (Tirdad Dirakhshani, Philadelphia Inquirer)
“Co-scripted by Céline Sciamma, director of Water Lilies and Girlhood, Being 17 manifestly benefits from her insight into the problems of young people searching for their social and sexual identities; this, combined with Téchiné’s controlled vision and superb direction of actors, makes the new film a quietly potent proposition.” (Jonathan Romney, Screen International)