Corentin Fila (Thomas) and Sandrine Kiberlain (Marianne) in Being 17 (Strand Releasing)

Corentin Fila (Thomas) and Sandrine Kiberlain (Marianne) in Being 17 (Strand Releasing)

From celebrated director André Téchiné (The Witnesses) and cowriter Céline Sciamma (Tomboy) comes this coming-out film with the novel approach of exploring the dynamic between a mother and her two sons—one biological, one she has taken in—who fall in love.

In his first feature film role, Corentin Fila plays Tom, a mixed-race teen who has received a scholarship to a private school in a mountain valley town. Tom has declined room and board so he can help out on his family’s small farm. He dreams of becoming a veterinarian, mostly so he can pull his mother out of poverty.

Brandishing an emerald stud in his ear and sporting designer clothes, Damien (Kacey Mottet-Klein of Sister) is a blond boy who is a little more fashion-forward than his peers. He lives with his parents inside the village in a comfortable and modern home. As his father, Nathan (Alexis Loret), is in the Middle East serving as a helicopter pilot, his mother, Marianne (Sandrine Kiberlain), has had to take on the role of single parent in her husband’s absence.

When Tom’s mother runs a fever, her son has to call Marianne, a doctor, up to the mountains. Marianne deduces that she is pregnant, albeit late in life. When complications arise with Tom’s mother’s pregnancy, and she has to be hospitalized, Marianne, who has taken a liking to Tom, brings him into her home—a questionable move, considering she knows her son and Tom have been getting into fights at school. Her maternal instinct tells her these two boys have more in common than they can see—they just need a little nudge in order to become friends.

The boys end up becoming more than friends. Damien most likely discovered he was gay long before Tom showed up. (Note the poster for Jean-Marc Vallée’s cult gay film C.R.A.Z.Y. above his bed). At first, he sees Tom as a rival, even a threat, to steal his mother, as Tom seems to be attracted to Marianne. Even though they have been forced to live together, the two teens continue to fight behind Marianne’s back. After a knockdown, drag-out fight in the mountains, the two call a time-out and share a joint. This is when Damien figures out what his true feelings have been for his surrogate brother all along.

While both the young male leads perform capably, the performance that really stands out is by Sandrine Kiberlain (The Women on the 6th Floor). She gives a spirited performance as Marianne, balancing the different hats a mother wears: caretaker, disciplinarian, but also confidante. Kiberlain’s Marianne is so much better written and performed that she overshadows the young men’s story, which, in the end, doesn’t pay off as well as it should.

It’s rare for a coming-out film to give so much screen time to the parents, who are often marginalized in this genre as either being accepting or rejecting of their child’s sexual preference, but Marianne’s a smart cookie. She had it all figured out, yet her story has very little to do with Damien and Tom’s burgeoning homosexuality. Instead, her narrative focuses on the strife of having a husband away at war. Kiberlain wears a strain on her face for the duration of the film that detracts away from anything the two boys are up to. When Tom and Damien finally consummate their relationship, it’s passionless and far less compelling than Marianne’s story.

Directed by André Téchiné
Written by Céline Sciamma and Téchiné
French with English subtitles
France. 114 min. Not rated
With Sandrine Kiberlain, Kacey Mottet Klein, Corentin Fila, and Alexis Loret