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Being 17 | Review

Changing Times: Téchiné Skews Youthful with Enjoyable Drama

Being 17 Andre TechineDirector André Téchiné manages his most emotionally rewarding venture in well over a decade with Being 17, a venture co-written by director Céline Sciamma (Water Lilies; Tomboy; Girlhood), a collaboration which clearly proves fruitful. Entering his fifth decade of filmmaking, the steadily working septuagenarian manages a particularly well attenuated tale of youthful transition. Starting off as a rather enigmatic juxtaposition of two rival youths eventually charts a more moderately predictable course once secret desires have been revealed. Though it eventually turns to a more customary realm than initially promised, there’s a refreshing verve and chemistry between its key players.

Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) attends the same grammar class as Thomas (Corentin Fila), a fellow outsider who seems intent on harassing him. After several awkward encounters, the bullying escalates into violence. At the same time, Damien’s mother Marianne (Sandrine Kiberlain), a country doctor, begins treating Thomas’ mother for an ailment and surprise pregnancy. Seeing Thomas is struggling to maintain good grades while undergoing a straining daily commute, she offers to let Thomas stay in her home, forcing the boys to work out their differences. Since Thomas was adopted by his parents after several unsuccessful pregnancies, the turn of events instills an extra tinge of duress on him. Damien’s father (Alexis Loret) is a military pilot frequently called away on classified operations, which is also a significant strain. Beneath their antagonistic actions, both young men discover a building attraction to one another, a surprise to both.

Often working with legendary French actresses with whom he has grown over the past several decades (Binoche, Beart, and most especially Catherine Deneuve have appeared in his most notable titles), Téchiné has also provided passionate portraits of queer youth throughout his career, recently in 2007’s The Witnesses (an intimate, small-scale glance at the AIDs crises in France in the 1980s) and most notably, with 1994’s Wild Reeds, long considered one of the director’s signature titles. But with Being 17, Téchiné brings us to contemporary climes with a budding romance tempered by less obvious demarcations of difference.

During the film’s set-up, the rather violent rivalry/bullying situation between Damien and Thomas seems cause for alarm. The character of Thomas, in particular, an Algerian youth adopted into a rural, white farming family, is a potential note of anxiety in the narrative. But Téchiné and Sciamma aren’t interested in potential racial implications determining this scenario, and it’s never directly addressed verbally. Instead, Thomas’ struggle with identity is related in his visual excursions into the woods, taking chilly skinny-dips into freezing waters, or tracking the mysterious unseen bear which wanders nearby. It seems an effort to reach his own origins, a search for a place he feels he belongs to more. Despite promising a unique supernatural angle, his search brings him to a different kind of surprising realization, and Being 17 most powerfully exists as a statement on sexual orientation in that queer identity allows for a potential release from the tired racial harangues which would seem to more easily (or at least more often) color the cinematic depictions of youthful heterosexual romances.

The surprise shifting development between both young men is made successful thanks to its young performers, featuring a grown Kacey Mottet Klein (the young boy from Ursula Meier’s 2012 film Sister), and an exceptional Corentin Fila in his screen debut. Not surprisingly, Sandrine Kiberlain hits all the right notes as a supportive mother mourning the absence of her husband, even when Being 17 requires a third act bit of melodrama before its rewarding finale. Though it becomes more of a traditional coming-of-age love story, Téchiné and Sciamma craft a winning and authentic scenario, which will hopefully attract wide acclaim.

Reviewed on February 14th at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival – Competition. 116 Mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.


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