The Movie Waffler New Release Review (DVD) - SEVENTEEN | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (DVD) - SEVENTEEN

seventeen film review
A teenager is romantically torn between two of her classmates.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Monja Art

Starring: Elisabeth Wabitsch, Magdalena Wabitsch, Bailey, Vanessa Ozinger

seventeen film dvd

Even though there are a thousand worse places to be homosexual, surely no one would want to be a gay person in a Hollywood film? For too long the Hollywood gay has been ‘othered’, with dramatic entertainment made of their sexuality, a sombre representation steeped in gravitas which the plot sensationally revolves around. Think of Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger’s pastoral bummings in Brokeback Mountain, a movie which mined its melodrama from the repression and shame the protagonists underwent, not their agency (as a measure of how readily that film played to straight audiences, note how, even now, the phrase "it’s a bit Brokeback" is used still by the simple minded to jokingly describe platonic male friendships); remember the victim narratives of Moonlight. A gay character existing within the casual narratives of mainstream cinema, is exactly that: not a character who happens to be gay, but a Gay Character, ipso facto: a martyr, a victim whose sexuality is in and of itself considered characterisation. And if a film does supposedly feature a homosexual character whose sexuality is not intrinsic to plot development, such revelations are reserved exclusively for post-production publicity tittle tattle, wherein we are told that Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is supposedly lesbian, and Josh Gad’s LeFou is gay because "he dances with a man" - as if we are still living under the Hays Code or something.

seventeen film review

This is why Monja Art’s wonderful coming of age drama Seventeen is such an invigorating feature. Within Art’s depiction of teenage life at an exclusive Austrian boarding school, sexuality is liquid, definable only by the intensity of emotion and desire it stirs; a fickle longing which is applied across the board but is never used to curse its characters or preach to the audience.

Seventeen’s narrative glides between various kids and their romantic entanglements, but our main character is Paula (Elisabeth Wabitsch), who, like most people her age, is victim to a fatal combination of raging hormones and romantic notions. As such she falls in love with her classmate Charlotte (Anaelle Dézsy), but finds herself attracted to, and manipulated by, sexy pal Lilli (Alexandra Schmidt).

seventeen film review

Sure, Paula may fancy the girls in her class, but this isn’t the cause of her angst: what creates conflict is the intensity of her emotions, not her sexual orientation. Paula’s pals are more concerned with the fact of her lying when blowing them off for the night, rather than whom she actually ends up spending the evening with. In Seventeen, sexuality is universally open: Lilli has her pick of the jocks and the cheerleaders, and at one-point Paula even gets into a relationship with a boyish nerd (a dissatisfactory relationship which is, admittedly, played for melancholic laughs).

The sincerity of Seventeen is clear from its authentic portrayal of school life. For starters, in a mimetic rarity, the school itself feels real, with dog-eared text books, boredom and the teacher being low-key ignored by the class. Paula’s teacher, a nervy twenty-something male who seems to want to do his best but isn’t very good at this job, is also implied to be a bit noncey, and even here Seventeen is refreshing, as the guy is more pitiable than predatory, and his teen charges see him as more a pathetic figure of fun than a danger; something else to self-defensively mock. Yes, the kids in Seventeen are savvy and cool, but they can also be dickish too, as seen in their manipulation of and casual cruelty towards each other. Art’s balanced representation here not only avoids patronising its characters, but it also endears us to their flawed humanity, and makes their heartaches and libidinous yearning completely sympathetic.

seventeen film review

Even the treatment of heartache aims for gentle relation of emotion rather than histrionic narrative development: no one ends up committing suicide or overdosing on drugs in Seventeen, and the film ends in faithful anti-climax. As anyone knows, heartbreak is in-itself drama enough, isn’t it? Remember the not knowing what to do, the sense that anything could happen and the inevitable suffering when it invariably didn’t? How much it all seemed to matter at the time? For young people hip to it, Seventeen is a beautifully crafted portrait, but for the rest of us Monja Art’s sincerely felt film will invoke a rush of nostalgia so deliciously acute it aches.

Seventeen is on DVD April 8th.

2019 movie reviews