André Téchiné’s critically cherished Les roseaux sauvages is slow, patient, quiet—indeed, solemnly repressed—and, on two fronts, meticulously detailed: as a period-piece evoking the early 1960s; and, also, as a rigorous, nuanced portrait of adolescent psychologies.
The rural setting, a boarding school and its lush, leafy grounds (which includes a waterfall/river for skinny-dipping) tries “housing” the teenagers—“wild reeds”—that the film follows: François, who is sexually confused and struggles out of the closet; Maïté, who cannot help herself and desires him regardless; Serge (Stéphane Rideau, whose memorable performance culminates in a searing image of unrequited love), whom François desires (and briefly has) but who desires Maïté; and Algerian-born Henri, a ped noir whose family has fled their home country and whose brother, a soldier, is killed in the Algerian War after Maïté’s mother, a teacher at the school and a Communist, refuses to hide him, despite loving him, for a mix of motives both personal and political. Having handed off the war in Southeast Asia to the U.S., France is now torn over this other war bred of its colonial history and appetite; the pastoral setting provides no refuge from the war once Serge’s brother, who marries in hopes of eluding it, falls in action. His wedding ceremony, with which the film opens, thus leads to his funeral: an allusion to the combustible transformation of one into the other in Sam Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957).
In France, the film won for Téchiné the Louis Delluc Prize for the year’s best film and César Awards for best film, direction, and script (Téchiné, Olivier Massart, Gilles Taurant); in the U.S., the National Society of Film Critics, as well as critics’ groups in New York and Los Angeles, named it the year’s best foreign-language film.
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