"Sticking as close as possible to the natural rhythms of life"
by Fabien Lemercier
- BERLIN 2016: French filmmaker André Téchiné deciphers Being 17, screened in competition at Berlin
Flanked by his actors Sandrine Kiberlain, Corentin Fila and Kacey Mottet-Klein, his co-screenwriter Céline Sciamma and his producers Marc Missonnier and Olivier Delbosc (Fidélité Films), French filmmaker André Téchiné talked to members of the international press about his latest film, Being 17 [+see also:
Q&A: André Téchiné
interview: Kacey Motten Klein
film profile], which had its world premiere in competition at the 66th Berlin Film Festival and was well-liked by critics.
Why did you choose to split the narration into three parts?
André Téchiné: In the first three-month period, there’s an incompatibility between the two teenagers, they become violent but have absolutely no idea why. In the second part, all of a sudden, after their fight in the mountains, there’s a sort of truce between them and the character of Damien, played by Kacey, even starts to develop sensual feelings for Thomas. At this point in the film, the character becomes erotically distressed, and this really scares Tom, played by Corentin. Damien’s desire is one that Tom does not share at all, in the second part of the film anyway. In the third part, when their adolescent fighting stops and the conflicts of the adult world intrude into their lives, making their brawls seem a bit pathetic, Tom realises that he can take care of his mother as well as the boy, and that’s when he is able to respond to Damien’s desire. In the film, I tried to guide the characters and a relationship that is constantly evolving, to omit things to some extent, and show how things unfold step by step. The characters in this story are programmed to be heterosexual, like everyone else. I tried to physically and visually show that they nonetheless need time to go through a learning process and deprogram their heterosexuality. It’s not something that you can just do, it’s a struggle, and it’s this internal struggle experienced by the two characters that I tried to portray. After all, it’s the opposite of love at first sight. I wanted to stick as close as possible to the natural rhythms of life and these teenagers’ discovery in relation to the norm.
Why did you enlist Céline Sciamma to co-write the screenplay?
I had a lot of admiration for what she’s brought to French film, the innovative side of her work on adolescence, and I knew that my film would revolve around two teenagers. Moreover, I wanted the film to contain as little dialogue as possible, for it to be as physical as possible as you have these characters that aren’t capable of putting their experience into words at all. In writing the screenplay, myself and Céline very much agreed on this, on creating something extremely minimalistic when it came to dialogue.
You always seem to succeed in bringing levity to fairly serious subjects.
It’s a constant concern of mine in my films. I’m very wary of making things too sentimental and I refuse to indulge in darkness. I don’t want it to compromise the emotion, but I try to not make the characters too overwhelming or heavy.
Why did you choose this mountain village as your filming location?
I really wanted to show a lost little corner of France that isn’t often represented in film. It’s a part of the country that’s a bit deprived and forgotten about. But I also liked that these teenage characters that still haven’t left their childhood behind would be pretty miniscule against the backdrop of these huge mountains. I thought that would visually work very well. It also struck me that these mountains, with their evil charm and enchanting quality, seem to belong to a magical world like that of adolescence, which is lost when you enter the altogether more pragmatic adult world.
(Translated from French)