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February 2, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

The French Kissers


Published 10/12/09 at www.artshub.com.au

For many people, adolescence was an awkward, embarrassing, gut-wrenching feeding ground for romantic and sexual failure. Still, most movies about teenagers tend to glamorise this period of our lives, choosing to cast their lead actors as smooth-skinned lotharios with money, wit and confidence.

Fortunately for the comedy genre, The French Kissers has leapt in the opposite direction, taking the audience on a frighteningly realistic ride through the ups and downs of what it means to be a teenager in modern society. This film is unbendingly frank about the tortuous elements of adolescence, and the cinematography reflects this all too graphically; on the movie screen, super-intimate close-ups of characters acquaint the audience with each inflamed pimple and every square inch of orthodontic work glued onto young teeth.

While the film itself can be quite layered, the plot never aims to be complex. Vincent Lacoste is Hervé, a 16-year-old, hormonally-charged French teenager who lacks all intuition and skill when it comes to the opposite sex. He is typically ambivalent towards his mother (Noemie Lvovsky) and hangs around with a mullet-haired friend of an equal or lesser ‘loser’ status (Camel, played by the fabulous Anthony Sonigo). High school is a minefield of social blunders and the possibilities for disaster are heightened when Aurore (Alice Trémolières) starts taking a shine to the oblivious Hervé. Their blossoming romance is an excellent expose of the social ramifications of high-school relationships, replete with countless opportunities for cringe-worthy comedic moments inherent in various elements of the progression towards adulthood.

Like the typical teenage boy, Hervé is blunt, tactless and confused. For many reasons he could easily be a detestable character; when one girl tentatively asks him out, he laughs at her stupidity, apparently unaware of the fact that he had been in her position only a few days ago. However, his apparent heartlessness is also offset by his naivety. Camel and Hervé’s obsessive discussions about sex, and their discomfort in various social situations, are as embarrassing as they are hilarious. While Camel is painfully awkward and sex-obsessed, nothing is more tragic than the denim-vest and jean combination he wears to school every day. Lvovsky is excellent as Hervé’s mother, following the progression of her son’s romance with the kind of cheerful enthusiasm undaunted by Hervé’s continual attempts to escape her presence. Trémolières seems to fit the role of Aurore, the oft-confusing teenage love interest, but the success of the film lies squarely on the shoulders of the two friends who blunder their way through various social scenarios.

Much has been made of Riad Sattouf’s direction of this film because of his well-known French comic strip The Secret Life of Youth, which addresses the daily quandaries of teenage life. Cinematographically speaking, Sattouf’s film lacks any flair, shot with a plain lens and without any attempts to break new ground in style. Fortunately, this works in the film’s favour; shots are as crisp and guileless as the characters captured within them. The often brutal honesty of this film naturally encourages audience engagement; while some scenes and characters are cripplingly embarrassing to watch, the comedy lies in the honesty of the portrayal and the audience’s recognition of the scars that adolescence inflicts upon the psyche.

Don’t forget that this film is also French; few subjects are sacred in modern society, and even fewer are left untouched in French culture. Scenes involving practice-kissing and masturbation don’t break new ground, but they will make you blush.

The French Kissers is a film that relies heavily on humour by personal association; the more that you recognise yourself in Aurore, Hervé or Camel, the harder it is not to laugh at the film’s painfully honest portrayal of the rite of passage that encapsulates adolescence. The characters might not be glamorous, but the frankness of their portrayal renders them more tangible to audiences of any age. It reminds you that American soap-operas do not do the genre justice; teenagers will always be dirty, messy, and sometimes ugly things, which is why it will always be excellent comedic fodder.

Released 26 December 2009

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