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SIFF ADVANCE: Being 17 - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: A
Acting: A-
Writing: A
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A

There's a refreshing purity to the love story at the hear of Being 17, which, being the antithesis of a Hollywood romance, eschews sentimentality. This is the story of a couple of teenagers frightened of both their own sexuality and of the attraction for each other that, for a long time, they don't even realize exists.

So, in the beginning, Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) and Thomas (Corentin Fila) fight. Thomas is an older adopted child of a couple now expecting a baby they hope will survive after apparently many failed attempts. They live on a farm, Thomas is focused on helping, and frustrated with his attentions being torn between that and school. Out of nowhere, he trips Thomas in class, and so begins a rivalry.

But, Damien's mom (Sandrine Kiberlain) is the town doctor, and she meets Thomas through her paying a house call to Thomas's ailing mother. She winds up offering her home to Thomas temporarily so he doesn't have to commute ninety minutes one way to and from school. The kids aren't thrilled. A lot of time is spent continuing to torment each other. They even ultimately choose a spot up in the mountains, closer to the area Thomas is more familiar with, to engage in an all-out brawl.

Director and co-writer André Téchiné handles all of this with subtlety and a steady hand, progressing Damien and Thomas's relationship organically. Nothing in this movie is ever forced. There is a sort of coming-out scene, but it is mercifully brief and contains no judgment. This isn's so much about a gay relationship as it is about a couple of people who start out hating each other and eventually discover they have feelings for each other. It just happens to be two boys.

That said, there is a love scene that is unusually frank. Or maybe I'm just saying that because of the frank cock shots. Téchiné doesn't overdo it exactly, but neither does he make any effort at discretion the way other directors might. This is ultimately a good thing, I would say, a reflection of how normalized gay sex is becoming -- at least in some parts of the world. On the other hand, this sex scene also rushes things a little unrealistically. And between Brokeback Mountain and this, since when is it so easy just to use tongue-slurped fingers as lube? This is the one point in the movie that presents rather unrealistically. Well, that and how often Damien wears the same T-shirt. Does this kid never change his clothes?

I'm nitpicking. Being 17 is a beautiful portrait of a volatile, young love. And it's a love that is always treated with respect -- it's only the kids' violent behaviors, which they are both using as deflecting defenses, that are judged harshly. Damien has only the briefest moment of confusion: "I don't know if I'm into guys or just you." It's an admission of attraction without any hint of self-loathing. How far we've come. Or maybe how far France has come. It's still hard to imagine this movie being made by Americans. Okay, it could have been made as an independent film in America, but it wouldn't have been as good. These characters have baggage, but it's not borne of our cultural baggage. It's a big part of its appeal.

Thomas still has his own fears. But even with a family tragedy occurring in this story, Being 17 has no histrionics. It's very matter-of-fact in its presentation, leaving viewers to connect with the characters on their own terms. This is a drama that sets a bar against which other films should be measured.

Kacey Mottet Klein and Corentin Fila have a very French way of BEING 17.

Overall: A-
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