Being 14 (2015) Film Review from the 14th Annual Tribeca Film Festival, a movie directed by Helene Zimmer and starring Athalia Routier, Galatéa Bellugi, Najaa Bensaid, Kevin Château, Françoise Lebrun, Louis Jacq.
Every decade or so, there is a film that, to me, defines the adolescent feelings of that era in America; the “perfect high school movie,” so to speak. For the 1970s, it’s American Graffiti; the 1980s, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The 90s brought us Dazed and Confused and the 2000s rolled along with Superbad. The 2010s are only half-finished (or half-begun, if you’re an optimist), but there have been several films already made to claim that title. Being 14 is obviously a French film depicting French life, but it ultimately strives for the same feeling, and even tries to emulate a recent contender for the decade’s throne: Spring Breakers.
Actually, the work of Harmony Korine might have been a major influence on Being 14, the directorial debut of actress and writer Helene Zimmer. Along with Spring Breakers, the film bears a striking resemblance to his debut feature, Kids. But Korine’s work seems more like a guideline here than a rule; where his work often seems purposefully exploitative, Zimmer’s feels more attuned to what is right for each character. The film is crude, for sure, and obsessed with getting young people to talk about sex constantly, but it all feels very naturalistic. Zimmer, only 23 years old when she filmed this, seems to perfectly understand the mindset of the teenage girl; after all, she was one only a few years ago.
That naturalism is perhaps the film’s greatest asset. Being 14 is filmed in a series of long takes, the scenes taking place in real time. It allows the girls to be more expressive and the audience to feel as if they are really bearing witness to these young people’s lives. In many ways, the film feels like a documentary crew was allowed access to film at a school, and the final product is the result.
The film does seem to stop and start in places. There’s more than one scene of a character staring blankly in the distance while at an ostensibly cheerful event (cliché cinematic shorthand for conveying a character’s emotional issues without actually engaging with them). But when the film works, it paints a portrait of adolescence that is a little endearing, a little depressing, a little confusing, and very frustrating. Isn’t that what being a teenager is all about?
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