Being 17 (2016; André Téchiné)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, October 27, at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.
Pampered, white, tentatively out teen Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein, who also starred in the MVFF39 offering Keeper) gets driven to school in a minivan by his beautiful and compassionate doctor mother. Taciturn, black, deeply closeted adopted teen Thomas (Corentin Fila) trudges ninety minutes over a snowy mountain to make it to class on time. Mutual outcasts and inexplicable enemies at school, the dizzily hormonal boys literally can’t decide whether to fight or fuck each other. This situation gets exacerbated when Thomas goes to live at Damien’s house.
An unexpected pregnancy sets the plot in motion, so instead of three acts, Téchiné divides the story into three trimesters. The artificial constructs only pile on from there, but very little about the film feels false. Téchiné perfectly captures the blinding insanity, curiosity and self-doubt of, well, being 17 years old.
As a seemingly self-referential joke about the film’s crushingly literal black-white dichotomy, Thomas at one point admonishes Damien on his use of “heavyhanded” symbolism. However, the more outwardly artificial first two trimesters of Being 17 work the best, while the emotionally sincere final third of Being 17 arrives as a bit of a poorly paced drag. The purity of the performances and Téchiné’s low-key visual intensity still contribute enough to earn the Bump.