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Wild Reeds

Posted by martinteller on May 11, 2013

A look at four young people in rural France, 1962.  Maïté (Élodie Bouchez) is an ideologue, a Communist like her mother (Michèle Moretti), a teacher in the local school.  Maïté has little interest in boys, but her best friend is François (Gaël Morel).  François is gradually discovering his sexual identity, and has a fleeting fling with Serge (Stéphane Rideau).  Serge has a rougish, carefree attitude about things, but the loss of his brother in the conflict in Algeria causes friction between him and his roommate, Henri (Frédéric Gorny), an Algerian.  Henri doesn’t care about anything, especially not his studies, and amuses himself making others uncomfortable… but he seethes with growing rage.

This is a lovely film.  Not only are the actors (all three of the boys in their first roles) blessed with youthful beauty, but their characters are rich and complex and deeply endearing.  Even Henri, who at first seems like he will be merely an antagonist to the others, becomes a full human being, with his own emotional conflicts.  There is an overwhelming humanity to the film, a movie which seems to stress the importance of caring for each other.  No, that’s not right.  Not the importance… the inevitability.  Even in the face of differences — sexuality, ideology, nationality, gender — the human impulse is to love and want to be loved.  The heart yearns to be kind.  Now that’s a sentiment I can get behind.

The movie has a wonderful natural flow to it.  François is arguably the central character, as his struggles with his budding homosexuality make for the overtly dramatic thread.  But each character has moments to grow and discover themselves.  The rhythms of the film are only interrupted once, in a scene between Maïté’s mother and another teacher.  It was disruptive to step away from the kids for this scene, although it ends with a moment that builds on the film’s political themes about Algeria.  As someone whose only knowledge of the Algerian situation is from other movies, I suspect most of the political subtext was lost on me.  I appreciated that it was there, at least what I could pick up on, but I was more interested in the youths and their developing relationships.

The photography beautifully captures the feel of a rural area at the onset of summer.  In the daytime scenes, the sun is a warm presence and its light casts a gentle glow on everything.  The camera movement is not grandiose, serving only to eloquently express the relationships between the characters and their environments.

A touching film with charming and subtle performances, bittersweet but ultimately far more on the sweet side (though not without sad moments, such as the ashamed, regretful look on the shoe store clerk’s face).  And any film that opens with a discussion of Through a Glass Darkly gets bonus points in my book.  Rating: Very Good (88)


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