Quand on a 17 ans (Being 17) – André Téchiné

AUnknownfter 2014’s In the Name of my Daughter, based on the true story of the unsolved disappearance of heiress Agnès Le Roux, veteran director André Téchiné is back on fictional ground with Quand On a 17 Ans. And he has delivered one of his best films to date.  Premiered at this year’s Berlin Film festival, it’s a simple story based around the animosity of two teenage boys whose relationship changes when they are forced to live together under the same roof.  Set against the harsh backdrop of a Pyrenean winter, Téchiné’s film beautifully captures the ecstasy and agony of adolescence in all its intensity brought to the screen by two exceptional young male actors. The film takes its time to reveal the dilemma at the heart of the story, subtly hinting the relationship between Damien (Swiss actor Kacey Mottet Klein) and Tom (Corentin Fila) goes further than mutual dislike.  Téchiné co-wrote the script with Céline Sciamma, the director behind the award-winning Bande de Filles (Girlhood).  And they are a winning team. Sciamma’s feel for adolescent angst fits perfectly with Téchiné’s talent for creating intrigue and ambiance.  Overseeing the testosterone-fuelled drama is the hugely talented Sandrine Kiberlain as Damien’s mother Marianne. Whether in comedy or drama, this actor rarely puts a foot wrong and here guides the action in her own unmistakeable fashion.

Damien lives with his mother, a local doctor in a village in the heart of the Pyrenées, while his soldier father is away on a tour of duty. Tom is the Algerian-born adopted son of agricultural workers who run a diary farm high up in the mountains. Tom has to work hard, helping to run the farm as well as keep up with his studies for the upcoming baccalauréat.  By contrast, Damien leads the life of a cosseted, adored only son.  When Tom’s mother is forced to go into hospital,  Marianne suggests Tom comes to live with her and Damien during the school term. The intense hatred between the two boys continues unabated until Damien starts to see Tom in a different light.
Tom is black and Damien is solidly middle-class, yet Téchiné’s film never deviates from its central theme of the adolescent search for identity. Class and race take a back-seat to this struggle displayed here with great insight and sensibility.  Téchiné doesn’t shy away from the violence and pain of that search and in doing so has produced a powerful, intriguing jewel of a film.

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