Director André Téchiné is 73 years old, and has an impressive 20 feature films to his name, including the cult Wild Reeds (Les Roseaux sauvages), which won four César Awards in 1994. His latest offering is a beautiful, poetic work, now showing in movie theatres in the United States.
As implied by its title, inspired by the first line of Arthur Rimbaud’s renowned poem Roman (1870), there is an enormous amount of poetry in Téchiné’s 21st opus. Set against the backdrop of the snowcapped Pyrenees Mountains in France, Téchiné — one of the most productive French directors of the post-Nouvelle Vague generation — puts a twist on the themes covered in his most iconic film, Wild Reeds, which saw Élodie Bouchez awarded the César Award for Most Promising Young Actress.
Being 17 also deals with questions of adolescent love, sensuality and the intimate relationship with the wilderness. The original screenplay was written alongside Céline Sciamma (Water Lilies, Tomboy, Girlhood), and follows the rites of passage of two high school students: Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) who leads a peaceful life in a small city with his mother, a doctor (Sandrine Kiberlain), and Thomas (Corentin Fila), a young biracial boy adopted by a couple of sheep and cattle farmers, who lives in an isolated area in the mountains and balances his studies with his work on the farm.
A considerable tension grows between the two boys, who provoke each other and come to blows, before an entirely different sentiment begins to take root. Scenes of insults and humiliation belie a silent desire, with the maternal, radiant figure of Damien’s mother at the center of the classic love triangle. This is a must-see film for its magnificent direction and acting, the precise depiction of mixed sentiments, and a surreal scene in which a naked teenager jumps into an icy mountain lake, whose waters reflect the surrounding snowcapped peaks.