André Téchiné's Being 17 is a complex, mature portrait of the human experience, an honest story about the importance of one being self-assured in their convictions, while having the confidence to be comfortable in one's own skin. The story is centered around two boys on the cusp of adulthood in Thomas and Damien, who couldn't be more different on the surface. Damien lives a comfortable life with his mother Marianne, a doctor, and while the stresses of his father being on a tour of duty abroad are felt, Damien is a character who seems to have his life together, getting good grades in school and having a strong, healthy relationship with his mother. Thomas on the other-hand has a more modest living, a young character who has been tested by fire, walking long distances through the mountains everyday to get to school, only to return home to work into the night on the family farm. Adopted, Thomas has resentment for his parents and the situation he finds himself in, with his internal angst leading him to bully Damien at school, someone who he views as pretentious due to his more privileged upbringing. When Thomas mother falls ill, the two boys unexpectedly find themselves sharing the same roof, after Marianne treats Thomas' mother and decides it's best if Thomas comes stay with her until his mother gets better. Calling Being 17 merely an LGBT film massively discredits what André Téchiné has accomplished, being a film that touches on universal truths of life and adolescence, while simultaneously reflecting on the unique challenges which plague the homosexual community when it comes to sexual discovery. Being 17 is a film that unfolds naturally, never rushing towards its themes or ideals, instead letting its young characters' discover themselves as the narrative unfolds, exhibiting the curiosity, angst, and overall confusion that is a part of adolescence, which in time ultimately leads to self-discovery. Thomas' characterization is they lynchpin, the driving force behind the film, and the main reason that the whole experience feels organic. Intriguing and compelling from the opening frame, Thomas is a character whose angst and frustration towards Damien makes their inevitable feelings towards each other believable, being a character who is in a state of denial about his sexual identity, due at least in part to his more difficult upbringing and the resentment he feels towards those he perceives to have a better life than him. He is attracted to Damien yet he shows it in aggressive ways, often psychically lashing out, with the film subtly capturing the toxic nature which masculinity-fueled aggression can have on thoese trying to discover their sexual identity. It's only through tragedy that Thomas begins to understand that his angst towards others is rooted in selfishness, being a character who beings to see how everyone is struggling in some way or another, and for the first time offering compassion for others. Being 17 is elliptical, poetic, and heartfelt, with a narrative that comes full circle in its conclustion, with Thomas now having to be the emotional rock for both Damien, and his mother Marianne, who both towards the end of the film find themselves riddled with the same form of grief and anger that plagued Thomas. André Téchiné's direction and visual design further serves to elevate the overall experience and emotion of Being 17, which features rugged camerawork early on, such as handheld photography and an array of dirty compositions, cinematic devices that effectively evoke the internal struggle of Thomas. Téchiné's use of tight compositions throughout the film are subtle but effective as well, evoking a sense of intimacy that would otherwise not exist, a decision that perfectly matches the complex and personal emotions of this story. For much of the film, Thomas' only place of peace is one of solitude in the countryside, with Being 17 featuring beautiful photography of the snow-covered landscapes, with Techine using wide-compositions in these moments that perfectly mimic the psyche of the character of Thomas, a young boy who feels alone. A complex, heartfelt story that works on nearly every level, from direction, to acting, to story, André Téchiné's Being 17 may in fact be the filmmaker's most impressive film to-date, offering up a mature study of adolescence in which calling it a "coming of age story" or "LGBT story" feels too restrictive given the films' universal merits.
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