Two alpha male boys falling in love is a dangerous and beautiful thing. This is what you witness in master French filmmaker Andre Techine’s remarkable film, Being 17. Americans grooved into fixed ideas about bullying may find it difficult to watch and its trajectory too out-of-step with Zero Tolerance attitudes. It starts out with the white intellectual Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) being deliberately tripped in class by the bigger, poorer, adopted, mixed race Tom (Corentin Fila). Through a twist of fate, Damien’s mother, Marianne (Sandrine Kimberlain), a doctor, is tending to the pregnancy of Tom’s white stepmother, Christine (Mama Prassinos). Neither boy know of this at the time of the tripping.
The deck is stacked against Tom because he must hike an hour to and from the school bus stop from the Pyrenees mountain farm where he lives and works with his adopted parents. Minnesotans can relate to the snowy weather he must endure for part of the year. Even for a very fit 17-year-old, this is exhausting and takes time away from schoolwork. Not to mention, his mom is pregnant. This causes conflicted feelings of protectiveness and inadequacy toward her. He wonders if she will still love him after the baby is born.
When the warm-spirited but politically-correct Marianne meets her patient’s son and learns he is struggling with his school work, she generously has him come down to live with her and Damien, so that he doesn’t have to hike. The problem here is that she is oblivious to the visceral tensions between the teens. Nor does she consider the ramifications of having another alpha teen boy in the house living with her.
The transparent Kimberlain has seen to it that her Marianne portrayal epitomizes the contrast between sharp linear intellect subverted by erotic undercurrents sprung from the subconscious. Moreover, though she is early middle-aged, something within her psyche is unformed. Since her husband is away at war she has sublimated sexual desires, but they surface subtly during a phase in which she shows affection and medical attention toward Tom. Damien picks up on the vibe. However, Techine doesn’t go in the direction you might think.
The boys have a turbulent rough and tumble relationship until an innocent skinny dipping moment occurs. This naturally and credibly triggers the beginning of mutual erotic feelings. Not to mention, tender and complicated emotional dimensions. Eros comes to be coupled with love. In reflecting on the totality of Being 17, one finds that few films have ever elicited so numinously the erotic undercurrents of male brutishness. And perhaps better yet, the power of masculine love.
Andre Techine (b. 1943) is one of France’s most esteemed filmmakers. His 1994 film, Wild Reeds, which looked into gayness and exile, won the New York Film Critics and National Society of Film Critics Best Foreign Language Film, as well as four Cesar Awards. Twenty-two years later, Being 17 is another Techine masterpiece. The passionate screenplay is co-written by Techine and Celine Sciamma.
Contains full male nudity.
starts Nov. 11
Lagoon Cinema, 1320 Lagoon Ave., Minneapolis