Being 17 ★★★★

Wow, what a remarkable film. It will surely be one of the strongest works of this year’s festival. Veteran French filmmaker Andre Techine (Wild Reeds), working in perfect complementation with his co-writer Celine Sciamma (Tomboy, Girlhood) has created an unforgettable portrait of the volatile emotional unpredictability and urgent thrills of first love. It details in fluid and authentic intimacy life on the cusp of adulthood, as the awkward adolescent emotions of desire, angst and grief boil together; and the violent confrontation of those feelings towards a person you are deeply are attracted to, but can’t find the way to express it.

Individually outcasted classmates Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) and Thomas (Corentin Fila) don’t get along, and their violent sparring betray repressed feelings neither of them can articulate nor deny. Thomas lives in the mountains with his adopted parents; tending to the farm of a morning and making the hour and a half journey to school every day. Damien lives minutes from school with his mother Marianne (Sandrine Kiberlain), a doctor, and father Nathan (Alexis Loret), a pilot on duty abroad. When Marianne is called out to Thomas’ home she discovers his mother is pregnant and ill, and taking a liking to Thomas and wishing to help him with his grades, invites him to stay at her home. But, as the incidents between the pair increase in severity, and their families are hit with further challenges, the sexual tension erupts and they find mutual comfort in one another.

The runtime could have been a bit tighter, but considering the chaptered trimester structure this has substantial narrative and thematic heft, with great care shown for every character; including Damien and Thomas’ parents. It is superbly made; the technical details faultless and the performances from the young leads incredibly brave. Stunning Pyrenees landscapes through a bitterly cold winter and the thawing summer to follow, provide a beautiful backdrop, too.

The tension between Damien and Thomas is palpable. I have never seen this sort of muscular flirtation portrayed on screen before. The twist in emotions – when the boys eventually let their feelings out, having bashed the repression from each other’s systems – is genuinely overwhelming.