3 to see at LFF 2016 if you like... date movies

Tim Robey recommends three hot tickets at the 2016 BFI London Film Festival: a film by an established director, a great debut, and a wild card.

The new film from an established director …

Being 17

Being 17 (2016)

What’s it about?

Damien and Tom, two teenagers living in a French mountain community, develop an inexplicable antagonism at school, engaging in daily combat which gets ever more violent and more peculiarly ritualised. Damien’s mother invites Tom in as a boarder, which only forces them to confront their feelings.

Who made it?

The screenplay is by Céline Sciamma (Tomboy, Girlhood), working here with 73-year-old director André Téchiné. Téchiné has built up a résumé of some 20 films since 1969, tackling sexual awakening after the Algerian war in Wild Reeds (1994) and the onset of AIDS in The Witnesses (2007). Swiss actor Kacey Mottet Klein debuted aged 10 in Ursula Meier’s Home (2008) and took the leading role in her next film, Sister (2012). 28-year-old model Corentin Fila makes an amazingly magnetic acting debut.

What’s special about it?

The collaboration here between woman-of-the-moment Céline Sciamma and Téchiné, one of the most respected veterans in post-new wave French cinema, produces giddy highs, especially for a gay audience, in an unashamedly enjoyable exploration of pent-up adolescent desires.

Coming to the film cold, you might take some while to identify it as a love story at all: the conflict between these two lads is so brutal and acrimonious it leads us for a long while down a blind alley. The real triumph, as its true theme emerges, is the chemistry between Klein – already a huge risk-taker and one of the most promising young actors in Europe – and his co-star Fila. It’s hard to take your eyes off either of them, and harder still to believe that there’s a full decade’s age gap between the two in real life.

The breakthrough …


Rara (2016)

What’s it about?

Rara is told from the point of view of 13-year-old Sara (Julia Lübbert), a schoolgirl in Vina del Mar on the Chilean coast, who is being raised with her younger sister by two mothers – her biological parents having separated. She’s reached an age where she knows how to manipulate her unconventional home life to get her own way, and is beginning to wonder if she fancies boys.

Who made it?

Pepa San Martin makes her feature debut with this film, which premiered in Berlin’s GenerationPlus sidebar. Her script is co-written with the distinguished Chilean screenwriter and director Alicia Scherson (The Future). Lübbert also debuts in the lead role and has received considerable acclaim for it.

What’s special about it?

One of the brightest finds in the Love strand, this is a shrewd child’s eye view of the complications arising from parental separation and a mother’s switch to a same-sex relationship. It’s about parents and children both bullying each other, often underhandedly, to get their own way. The relationship between the two sisters in it is especially well-caught: they’re acting out both consciously and unconsciously because of the familial tensions surrounding them.

Sara (a cracking Lübbert) keeps finding ways to undermine her mum, dad and younger sis: her best relationship is actually with her stepmum. (Some viewers will be reminded of The Kids Are All Right, no doubt.) It’s refreshing, too, that the dad doesn’t just get thrown under a bus to push a progressive message – in fact, the film has no didactic agenda at all, save for exploring the thoroughly plausible effect that suddenly having two moms might have on a teenager.

The wild card …

The Reunion

The Reunion (2016)

What’s it about?

Olmo (Francesco Carril) is a writer and translator in his early 30s, happily in a relationship, who catches up one night in Madrid with Manuela (Itsaso Arana), an actor who was his girlfriend 15 years ago. One drink leads to another, and to a concert, and swing-dancing, and soul-searching: should these childhood sweethearts have tried harder to stay together?

Who made it?

Writer-director Jonás Trueba returns to the LFF after last year’s Love entry The Romantic Exiles, and 2013’s The Wishful Thinkers – both stories about young Spanish intellectuals in crisis. The son of Belle Époque (1992) director Fernando, he’s emerging as Spain’s answer to Richard Linklater, and regularly casts Carril as his Ethan Hawke-like alter ego. 

What’s special about it?

While Trueba is almost certainly fed up of the Linklater comparison, it’s hard to ignore this wonderful film’s easiest access point: split into three sections, it feels like the Before trilogy compacted into a single, chronologically reshuffled movie. The first part is very much Sunset – an all-nighter that stretches on suggestively and begs ever more questions about the current contentment of the two main characters. The short middle part begins with Olmo creeping back into his apartment at dawn, and trying not to disturb his other half – the heart-to-heart that follows is disarmingly gentle, and beautifully written. And could Trueba have possibly cast two actors more ideal as the younger Olmo and Manuela?

Taking us back 15 years, the third section is a gorgeous lost valentine, the kind awkwardly delivered between kids who have no idea where their future lives will lead them. Mark my words: this will be a highlight of the whole LFF for many who see it.

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