Coming-of-age French film explores gay romance in the Pyrenees.
High schooler Damien has it all: brains, good grades, parents who care (though dad is now in an unspecified war zone), a boxing coach, even a mom who’s a physician and drives him to and from school.
Thomas lives with his adoptive mother on a dairy farm out in the wilds of the Pyrenees. By bus and on foot, it takes him an hour and a half each way to get to school. He dreams of becoming a veterinarian.
But in gym class, they have the same problem. When teams are picked for basketball at the top of Andre Téchiné’s “Being 17,” neither is an immediate pick; Damien because he’s not a good player; Thomas because of the stigma of being adopted and of mixed race.
Moreover, they don’t like each other. Thomas (Corentin Fila), with an apparently big chip on his shoulder, is a bit of a bully, given to untoward actions like tripping Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) as he makes his way back to his seat after reciting a Rimbaud poem in class.
So it seems more than passing strange when events conspire to place these two in the same household, even temporarily.
But Damien’s mom Marianne (Sandrine Kiberlain), treating Thomas’ mother for a lung infection, insists that Thomas stay with her and Damien while his mother is in the hospital, because her house is closer to both school and the hospital. She doesn’t seem to notice the lustful looks Damien is casting Thomas’ way.
Life goes on about the way you’d expect for these two until Thomas lets another punch fly and gets expelled from school.
Fila and Klein are fine foils for each other, though the script allows them few surprises. Kiberlain scores with her motherly and doctorly concern for both her patient and the boys, though a total freak-out scene late in the story seems a bit over the top.
“Being 17” is a simple, even predictable (and, finally, explicit) sexual awakening story shot in the snowy mountain reaches and later the summer sunlight with uncommon skill (mostly with a hand-held camera) and fine atmospherics by cinematographer Julien Hirsch.
Nature makes it look beautiful despite the far-fetched plot.
"Being 17" opens Dec. 2 at the Ken Cinema; 4061 Adams Avenue, in the heart of Kensington, San Diego, CA, 92116