Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) lives with his mother Marianne (Sandrine Kiberlain) in a rural area. His mother is the local doctor, his father is a soldier who is gone most of the time. But Damien’s life would be alright if it wasn’t for Thomas (Corentin Fila) who bullies him. As chance will have it, Marianne gets called to Thomas’ place, a farm a long way from school, because Thomas’ mother is ill. To help more than just medically, Marianne suggests that Thomas could stay with her and Damien for a while, which means that Damien and Thomas have to reshape their relationship with each other.
Quand on a 17 ans tells a sweet and touching story in an unusual setting that I very much loved because it sticks to the complexity of its characters and their relationships without overloading the story.
Quand on a 17 ans kept surprising me with the things it focuses on and the things it leaves aside. Where other films would be completely about the fact that Thomas is black and adopted (we don’t learn more about his background, though, than Victor Démé’s wonderful Yafake being on the soundtrack, which may or may not be a hint), for example, or that he and Damien fall in love, here it’s just one of the things that the story concerns itself with. It’s not irrelevant, it definitely has an impact, but like in real life, it’s simply not the only thing that makes a character.
The film focuses much more, instead, on how we relate and take care of each other in general. Thomas tries to take care of his sick mother, which is later echoed by Marianne – who is usually the one trying to care for everybody – falling ill and having Damien temporarily nurse her (which she lets him do, only to take over the adult role again as soon as she feels a little better). But more central is the question of how Damien and Thomas have to learn how to take care of and relate to each other.
Relating leaves people vulnerable and the film does have its fair share of hurt and pain and sadness. These things may hit heart, but they are also deeply necessary parts of life. Avoiding all pain would mean avoiding all joy as well. It’s that work with grief and vulnerability that made the film stand out most for me.
It works so well because it’s so absolutely easy to relate to the characters of the film and to let them in your heart. And when you do, you’re rewarded with an emotional experience with staying power.