Being 17: Andre Techine’s Fresh Portrait of Rural French Youth (LGBTQ, Gay)

Being 17 adds an panel to the output of French director Andre Techine, the most prolific and accomplished French director. Despite his own age (he is 73), he has offered unparalleled portraits of youths that are impressive in their fresh, candid, insider’s and nonjudgmental style.

Set in a rugged village in the mountains of Southern France, this sharply observed tale centers on two young men, probing over time the complex psycho-social dynamics of their relationship, which vacillates between disdain and attraction.

Damien, a smart, sensitive seventeen-year-old student, lives with his mother Marianne, a doctor; his father Nathan is a military pilot on a mission abroad.  Mother and son enjoy a comfortable life in a small town located in a valley among the mountains of the Hautes-Pyrénées.

In high school, Damien gets picked on by Thomas, a classmate, who trips him in the middle of class for no apparent reason. There are more altercations between them while playing sports and in the schoolyard. Both are outsiders at school chosen last for sports teams. In order to protect himself, Damien takes self-defense classes with Paulo, an ex-military family friend.

Thomas, the biracial adopted son of sheep and cattle farmers, faces his own problems. For starters, he has to walk and bus for 90 minutes to reach the school.

Marianne makes a house call to Thomas’s farm when his mother, Christine, has a pulmonary infection. Christine, who has a history of miscarriages, is pregnant and has to be hospitalized. Thomas worries about his mother and the birth of a biological child, his grades in school begin to fail. Wanting to help, Marianne invites Thomas to come and stay with her family so he can visit his mother in town at the hospital and spend more time studying and avoid the long trip to school every day.

This coincides with a blissful return home for Nathan for leave between his tours of duty abroad. Nathan is lovingly welcomed by his wife and son and takes it upon himself, during his short visit, to personally invite Thomas to stay with his family. Pressed by his parents, Thomas reluctantly accepts.

Sharing the same household does not improve the relationship between the teenagers. Damien resents his mother’s attention to Thomas and accuses him of getting sick so he can be examined by Marianne.

Away from home, the two boys fight each other in the mountains, forced to stop due to heavy rain.  Thomas then suggests they swim in the lake,  and he strips himself naked while Damien is staring.

Several days later, Damien asks a reluctant Thomas to drive to see a man whom he has contacted online for sexual experiment. When the man tries to kiss Damien, he backs down. On their way back home, Damien confesses his feelings to Thomas: “I need to know if I’m into guys or just you.”

Thomas does not welcome the revelation, and while trying to rebuff Damien, Thomas falls into a ditch and breaks his wrist. Realizing that the two boys have continued fighting, Marianne asks Thomas to return to his farm.

The next day, Thomas gets late for the Spanish class, and smiles to Damien when taking the seat next to him. He even allows Damien to dry his unwounded hand with a handkerchief. Damien takes the first step and kisses Thomas, who initially seems to welcome and return the affection, but then pushes Damien away and hits him. Damien tells his mother why Thomas hit him, revealing his true feelings for Thomas. Marianne is sympathetic to her son.


Nathan is killed in a mission, shattering the lives of his wife and son. After the funeral, Thomas embraces Damien while consoling him. As Marianne falls into a deep depression, Thomas moves back to live with them to help look after Marianne. He keeps her company while Damien is away at school. The relationship between the two boys warms up. They work together, discussing a classroom project on desire. When Marianne finds the strength to go back to work, it is time for Thomas to return to his farm. Marianne goes to bed earlier that night. Damien tells Thomas that he still loves him and that he is not ashamed of his feelings. Thomas asks him to shut up and kisses him on the mouth. The two boys then make love and top each other. The next morning, Thomas leaves before Damien wakes up. Damien goes to Thomas’s farm where they talk about the previous night and their feelings. Thomas is happy to have Damien on the farm, but each time Damien tries to kiss him, he says “not here”, though he doesn’t regret having sex with Damien.

Some time later, a nervous Thomas is seen punching on the door to Damien’s family house and asking Damien to stay with him as he gets a superstitious panic that he might bring bad luck when his foster mother is in labor.

Marianne decides that it is better for her to take a job offer and move to Lyon. She tells her son that Thomas can come and visit, but Damien is doubtful. Marianne then tells him that he has to have more confidence in himself and in life.

In the last scene, Thomas goes down to the slope to meet Damien and they kiss.

Still unknown in the U.S., despite holding a major stature in French cinema over the past four decades, the acclaimed filmmaker Téchiné offers an ultra-naturalistic slice of adolescent life that combines violence and sensuality, wrenching loss and tender discovery.

Being 17 is a good companion piece to Techine’s 1994 autobiographical feature, Wild Reeds, his unacknowledged masterpiece, and the only film in U.S. history to have won the Best Foreign Language Film Award from the New York, Los Angeles, and National Society of Film Critics.

Credits:

Running time: 116 Minutes.

Directed by André Téchiné

Cast:

Sandrine Kiberlain, Kacey Mottet Klein, Corentin Fila, Alexis Loret

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