Monday, May 16, 2005

Wild Reeds (Andre Techine)

Set in a small French town in 1962, "Wild Reeds"'s cinematic landscape is a minefield of cliches (coming-of-age film, period piece, European art film, love triangle, sexual awakening, political allegory), but the film makes it to the finish with minimal damage. It doesn't defuse its cliches so much as it steps around them. Melodrama is ignored, tragedy is downplayed, the political overtones aren't overbearing, and the film is more interested in the characters' friendships than their shifting sexual allegiances and attractions. The four leads, teenagers attending the same boarding school, are, on paper, a study in opposites not out of place in a generic Hollywood screenwriting class: gay and straight, male and female, Communist and right-wing, Algerian and French, intellectual and average, with (mostly) unrequited lust toward each other. In practice, these aren't defining characteristics of the characters, just aspects of their lives hovering in the background and foreground of their friendships at natural and important moments. What I liked the most about this film was its emphasis on the unlikely friendships that can occur between teenagers in a small town, pushed together by similar temperaments, limited and claustrophobic environments, and not much else.

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