In the early 1990s, the French TV channel Arte commissioned a series of short made for tv movies for a collection of films centred around adolescence. Wild Reeds was initially produced as a part of this, with the originally televised 55 minutes later becoming part of this longer film. The series of films itself, called Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge, is on the 1001 TV shows list – but very few of them have been released with English subtitles. So this is going to be the first of a select group I will be watching in order to cross that off.
Set in 1962 at the end of the Algerian War of Independence, Wild Reeds takes a look at the maturation of four teens who are at school to pass their baccalaureate. What forms is a convoluted love connection as one boy discovers his homosexuality whilst experimenting with another, who sees it as nothing more than that. Then there is his best girlfriend who is wanted by two boys, one of whom is her political opposite that is angry at the loss of his home in former French Algeria.
I am not the biggest fan of coming-of-age movies, but Wild Reeds does it in a way that feels profoundly honest and never threatens to deviate into either the explicit or the overly saccharin. Yes, this is a film about sexual awakenings the and the first steps into adulthood, but the whole thing is done with the urgency of a sleepy summer’s day and yet it still makes everything feel like it matters deeply. These may not be relationships, or even friendships, that last beyond the scope of the film – but you see their growth and how the four have profoundly changed each other.
What I find ultra-impressive is in the casting of four young actors who, in a rarity for coming of age films, are broadly playing their own age – the youngest being 16 at the time. It’s little wonder that three of the four ended up being nominated as promising young actors, although the win would eventually go to Mathieu Kassovitz… so I can see how that happened.