Thursday, November 17, 2016

Being 17 (2016)

Film: Being 17 (2016)
Stars: Sandrine Kiberlain, Kacey Mottet Klein, Corentin Fila, Alexis Loret
Director: Andre Techine
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

Do you ever see the titles at an art house theater and wonder "who sees those random foreign films that play here for a week?"  I am a pretty strong fan of trying to get out of my comfort zone at the movies, but for the longest time I was one of those people.  I would go to art house cinema, no doubt, but I would be going for the headliners-the Oscar contenders, the British comedies, anything the had Catherine Deneuve-and not the more experimental and random films.  That changed this year, though, as I've been making a point of hitting these pictures, trying to get a little outside of the mainstream filmic conversation (well, the adjusted mainstream where everyone sees major Oscar contenders).  That's how I stumbled upon Being 17, a French coming-of-age film about two boys warring with their feelings toward each other.

(Spoilers Ahead) Being 17, on the surface, is a relatively familiar story.  Coming-of-age stories for young men have been the backbone of the film industry for most of its existence, and here we have two of them, Damien (Klein), an effeminate teenager who is clearly aware of his attraction to other men, in particular Tomas (Fila), a biracial son of adoptive parents whose mother has gotten pregnant late in her life.  The film centers around these two young men, as well as Damien's mother Marianne (Kiberlain), who balances her time between a successful medical practice and her vibrant romance with her husband Nathan (Loret), a military office stationed overseas.

The film's secret, however, lies not just in that they are exploring the world of gay men (a story less entrenched in film lore), but also that it does it in such a naturalistic, sexual, and violent way.  The film shows how Damien is clearly not only in love, but in lust, over the attractive Tomas, but Tomas it's not clear what his feelings are toward Damien, and the film actually plays pretty coy with his sexuality throughout the film.  The encounters between the two feel uncomfortable, but in a way that feels authentic to the story.  Damien, for example, regularly tries to initiate physical intimacy with Tomas, more out of a drive for hormones, and then we see that his feelings flow much deeper.  The film doesn't shy away and judge such actions.  Lesser stories would have had him reprimanded, put in his place as being too sexually aggressive or it would have leered into "the gay man trying to turn the straight man" territory, but Techine keeps the movie very grounded, instead telling the story as it likely would play out in real-life, and not what the cinema has taught us.

Honestly, the first two-thirds (or trimesters, as they're referred to in the film) are excellent-the third takes too many detours.  There's a scene where Nathan dies, giving us a truly unusual curveball that I feel like may have made sense within the confines of the will-they-or-won't-they, where Tomas, devastated for his friend and his surrogate mother, decides to give in to Damien's advances just once as a way to help him cope.  It feels like that's where it's headed, with Tomas' sexuality remaining a question mark as the film closed, but it doesn't quite get there as the filmmakers feel the need to give the audience a happy ending, with Tomas essentially becoming Damien's boyfriend despite having resisted him the bulk of the picture.  The weird balance of the ending, with some parts so heavy and the others so fluffy, jarred me as a viewer.  The movie had so much promise up until that point, but I'm someone who can't quite glue myself to a film with a bad ending, and I think this one goes there, to the point where you almost wonder if the final scene is a dream, and not in a clever Otto Preminger sort-of-way.  Still, it's interesting, and isn't shy about nudity or violence (there's definitely a couple of scenes in the film that would have been edited if this was an American picture), and might be worth a watch if the initial setup intrigued you.

Those are my thoughts on Being 17-share yours below if you've caught the picture.  If not, give a recommendation on a random art house film that was even below-the-line there that you caught, and whether we should see it!

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