A Fresher Tone: Our Review of ‘Being 17’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - November 18, 2016
A Fresher Tone: Our Review of ‘Being 17’

My excitement to see Andre Techine’s Being 17 when I saw that he teamed up with Celine Sciamma to write the screen play. I’ve been a big fan of the latter. She seems adept in capturing the intricacies of contemporary French youth. The first scenes are brisk, relentless, and unforgiving, just like one of its protagonists, Tom (Corentin Fila). He uses his limbs to carve through the feet of snow, laburing through a trek and a bus to get to school. I’m just realizing now the symbolism of this seasons. Techine and Sciamma divide the film by trimesters, the first one set in the winter, its winds harsh like Tom’s tendencies. The weather will be warmer, the landscape filled with flowers and verdant trees. The season match an exterior that softens.

Tom meets Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein), both of them being the last ones picked for a basketball game. Tom’s slightly stronger, Damien more academic, both resenting the other’s strengths. Tom trips Damien during class, and both boys taking turns at assaulting each other. But it will always be complicated when a character has an adversary in a small town. Damien’s mother Marianne (Sandrine Kiberlain) is the film’s archetypal altruistic doctor. Marianne examine’s Tom’s sickly mother Christine (Mama Prassinos) who turns out to be pregnant. She learns about Tom’s academic troubles and believes that part of the reason is his long trek. She decides to let Tom stay at her house, not knowing how seriously they hate each other. But to paraphrase Stefan Zweig, emotions eventually swing from one to the other.

being-17

This is what I like about Being 17 – the subtle yet deliberate revelation of each boy’s sexuality. We see Tom swim naked where no one can see him. We see both boys use each other’s physical bouts as leverage, Damien doing so specifically to drive up to a near farm to hook up with someone. When that encounter turns sour Damien explains during the drive back home that “I don’t know if I’m into guys or just you.”

That’s the first verbalization of his desire, a long time coming. And of course, Tom still doesn’t know how to react to this, his stay at Damien’s house complicating his reaction. We never hear the two words we normally do when people reveal themselves to their loved ones. Marianne treats Damien and Tom’s sexuality as a matter of fact thing, as anyone should in this day and age. It’s Tom who still has to take that leap with Christine and her partner.

The people who read me here would figure out that I’m very critical of queer cinema. It has the same devices I’ve seen in the genre for the past two decades although it presents them with a fresher tone. My biggest nitpick has something to do with Damien’s actions as Being 17 goes further. But I’ll take the few bad things with the many good ones.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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