Two young men begin their final year of secondary school sporting a new look. Romain (Victor Chambon) appears on his first day after summer holidays decked out in a punk rock leather/razorblade/spike-coloured hair ensemble that startles his new classmates (abandoning the restrictive dress code of private school for the far more “libre” public), causing the matron to nearly swallow her herding whistle. Much further down the economic food chain, Eric (Valentin Ducommun who rewards the camera from every angle), tries not to smile and reveal his just-installed braces. Then, before you can say “find a new best friend,” Eric’s previous bud has been transferred to another form, leaving the orthodontically improved teen seated beside the make-up enhanced Goth.
In what can only be described as love at first fright, Eric is soon showing his sudden soul mate the secret passageways of the school basement only to be ensnarled in a two-way game of oxygen deprivation and the tantalizing appearance of a crotch grab.
The marvellous ambiguity of these opening sequences immediately establish writer/director Gaël Morel’s narrative credentials and the promise of more intriguing/puzzling action as his story unfolds.
Central to all that follows are the mothers of the restless teens. Anna (Béatrice Dalle) is a Shakespearean character of the first rank. Whether filming her adoring son’s mediocre lip-syncing, poisoning his coffee to ensure his reappearance for the noon-day meal or offering kisses that border near the domain of incest, her descent into familial madness is assured: only its final method remains, for a time, a mystery. At the other end of the matriarchal spectrum, Joelle (Solenn Jarniou easily takes best actor honours) has to endure a brutish (but not brutal) husband and the jibes and taunts of her most fragile son (lines such as “walk behind me” to avoid embarrassment when Mom is forced to visit school due to Eric’s strange behaviour, are seriously at odds with the metal mouth’s developing character; still their final reconciliation is, nonetheless, moving).
As Romain and Eric begin to seriously bond, it’s their love of music that provides the glue. Soon, they’re engaged in making a music video where the New Wave devotee Romain is the star and his country-bumpkin-let-me-out bud directs and records every move. When the pent-up frustrations of Anna take a too-believably sickening twist, the film reveals itself to be much more than another coming of age flick. The initial shock is stunning, yet from there, Morel can’t quite find the royal jelly to realize the masterpiece that is lurking in the seedy weeds.
As the succeeding scenes unfold, the viewer is left to fill in more of the blanks while Eric tries to re-engage with the teachers and family around him. Symbolically, he can’t bring himself to jump the high bar in gym class, then shyly slips into the shower only to reveal his all to the gym teacher.
Finally, with Romain’s leather jacket in his luggage, he graduates to film school where it seems his new roommate may fulfill the physical desire that never found its release (or did it …?) in the musty cellar of his previous educational entrapment.
Quibbles aside, any film that so intriguingly asks more questions than it answers is always worth a try. JWR