Director: Andre Techine
Starring: Elodie Bouchez, Gael Morel, Stephane Rideau, Frederic Gorny
There are certain topics that tend to get made into films more frequently than others. While war movies and rom-coms certainly are done over and over again, the coming of age tale isn’t that far behind. Wild Reeds is most definitely a coming of age tale, mostly plotless, focusing on four young adults in France in 1962.
Francois (Morel) and Maite (Bouchez) are friends, but everyone thinks they are dating. Francois is at an all-boys boarding school where he meets Serge (Rideau); considering Serge looks like a Greek god, Francois soon starts to develop romantic feelings for him. Meanwhile, there is insolent Henri (Gorny) who, at 21, is still in school because he has failed to pass his baccalaureate exam. He talks back to teachers, but spends all his time listening to reports on the conflict in Algeria.
The story weaves back and forth between all four characters. At the very beginning, it appears as though Francois is a domineering character and our sole narrative focus. Power then shifts to Serge, as Serge is revealed to be brash and arrogant, and it seems like Francois is actually more delicate than he initially appears. Henri is initially a peripheral character, but the film spins off on a tangent, exploring his feelings and his story, as we forget about Francois for some time. Maite appears then disappears, is the focus, then seems unimportant. The final sequence of the film brings all four characters together for the one and only time in the film, and wraps all the tiny little plot lines each had been harboring. It’s an interesting approach to telling a story, one that helped to keep me engaged in the film, but I admit that it took me awhile to figure out that yes, there are actually four main characters.
And who, exactly, are those four people? Considering this is a coming of age tale, that’s really what the film is trying to figure out. These characters change course many times throughout the film. They are alternately cruel and sensitive, each and every one of them; sulking, then gloriously happy. It’s difficult to say if I found any of them particularly likeable; I don’t really know if I did. Serge is handsome and affable but brutish, Maite is tolerant but has built up emotional walls, Francois is sensitive but foolhardy, and Henri is ultimately kind but also arrogant. I didn’t mind watching the stories of these four people, but none of them truly moved me or got me to root for them. I simply watched their tale unfold with an odd sort of detachment.
This detachment was helped along by a very particular acting style. I couldn’t find any information about whether or not the leads were played by amateur actors, but it sure felt that way. That’s not really a slam, more an observation. Non-professional actors tend to vastly underplay scenes and lines, and that’s how I felt the performances were here. Not quite “dead” or “wooden,” just very very low-key. Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of low key, and I am certainly not opposed to minimalism. However, this style felt a bit at odds with the general drama-queen nature of the narrative (everyone is in love with everyone else). These characters are supposedly having profound sexual/philosophical awakenings, and these performances are delivered by actors who emote very little. Would I have preferred overt mugging? Probably not; that would have been annoying. But really, Francois has just about one facial expression for the duration of the film.
The colors and scenery in the film are clearly meant to be reminiscent of youth, as this is precisely what the film is about. Wild Reeds is full of vibrant colors and pastoral sequences; the first scene is a country wedding so bucolic, it’s painful. The greens in particular stuck with me, and the final scene, the one with all four together, involves them tramping out to a river to go swimming in the middle of the day. It’s absolutely gorgeous and lush and verdant, and I got the sense of a satisfaction or a happiness so perfect, it could never be duplicated. That was the moment when the film best captured that feeling of youth for me.
Overall, Wild Reeds is a pretty decent, slightly elliptical tale of four people brought together in early adulthood, and how their passions and interests flit from one to the other. It’s engaging, but it didn’t move me. The characters were real, but also a little unlikeable. Glad I saw it, but it certainly didn’t change my life.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10