I had some seriously high expectations going into this one. After all, pixote had named it his #2 film of all time and skjerva seems to have a lot of love for it too. Plus, it belongs in my favorite genre – coming-of-age films and features young and good-looking protagonists! So, did this live up to my sky-high expectations or had I just set myself up to be underwhelmed?
Wild Reeds is the story of four young people caught exactly at the point where they are on the cusp of adulthood and adolescence, an age that seems to capture the imagination a lot of filmmakers but one that seldom gets portrayed just right. The film’s title comes from The Oak and the Reed, a fable by La Fontaine that is the subject of a classroom lesson. Firstly, I was mistaken in thinking that Wild Reeds was just a coming-of-age film. It’s so much more than that. It’s a period piece about a very particular place and time – i.e. A small town in Southwest France right around the end of the Algerian conflict. Consequently, it also ends up being a political allegory. Plus, its a movie about starting to get comfortable with one’s own sexuality. It’s also a character study of four individuals caught in a love quadrangle. But all of this is secondary to what the film is really really about, namely, the intimacy and joy that friendship offers even as one is going through all of the insecurities and uncertainties that inevitably accompany the process of growing up.
Okay, so I admit, this is definitely one of the best coming-of-age films I’ve seen. I think what really makes it so great is how intimate and real and detailed it all feels. By the end of the film, I felt like I had gotten to know these characters as friends and I was genuinely invested in their future. The film doesn’t offer any easy answers nor does it offer any reassurances that everything has been resolved neatly. Rather, it shows us how these characters have matured and grown stronger during the course of the film thereby offering us hope that even though life will continue to challenge them, their ability to love and connect and change will help them get through quagmire we call life. I am amazed at the way Téchiné manages to completely do away with melodrama, downplay the tragedy and even let the political stuff remain solidly in the background and focus almost completely on the evolving relationship between these four characters. Plus, these characters always feel like completely realized, living and breathing human beings. Human beings that are thoughtful, intellectual and feel everything intensely. I love every one of them!
Another really exceptional thing about this film is the way the entire story unfolds. We seem to be merely following characters along as each scene just flows seamlessly into the next and I didn’t even realize at what point I got so attached to these characters. Even though, on the surface, these characters seem to inhabit personalities and positions that are seemingly at odds with one another (gay and straight, male and female, Communist and right-wing, French and Algerian), the portrayal of how they are drawn to each other by the shared outsider status and their circumstances is completely credible and one of the most authentic depictions of budding friendship I’ve ever seen on film. Despite the obvious downplaying of the dramatic elements in the film, I was able to feel the same sense of urgency towards every new sensation and emotion that the characters in the film are bound to feel at their stage in life.
Élodie Bouchez, oh Élodie Bouchez – where do I even begin. Why wouldn’t everyone be in love with her! She is youthful and joyous in parts, mature beyond her years and sober in others, compassionate at times and bitterly hurtful in others, but through all of this she never loses her luminescence and beauty. Her character really forms the emotional core of the film and she seems to carry that burden with such grace and ease. Seriously, I don’t think this movie has any weak performances but Élodie really stands out. Oh and Stéphane Rideau is HOT!
Ultimately, nothing spectacular ever really happens in Wild Reeds. These are simple events in the lives of normal characters and maybe that’s why this has so much emotional resonance because the film never trades authenticity for drama and never turns manipulative or false. At the end, I was left with the feeling that every relationship in this film, no matter how deep and close it felt, was ultimately ephemeral.
Yet another film with a perfect ending scene. The camera revolves in a circular pan of the countryside and we anxiously look around but don’t see our protagonists anywhere. Finally, we hear someone whistling and see three friends crossing a bridge with their arms interlinked and we feel comforted that ultimately these kids are going to be alright.