The French Kissers

The French Kissers

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Hervé (Vincent Lacoste) and Camel (Anthony Sonigo) are teenagers in their final years at school. Education, however, is passing them by. The droning of teachers is background noise, intruding only with the occasional awkward question, as classes function as a meeting place for the boys and their friends to discuss the only subject of real interest to them - sex. Every aspect of it. Kissing with tongues. Which girls have the prettiest feet? Are mature women more exciting? How can you tell if a girl is interested? Is it true that magnetic waves produced by the engines of buses and subway cars directly stimulate the penis, making it impossible to travel on public transport without an erection?

Interacting with actual girls is difficult; it's hard to peek into the real world through this bubble of rumour and myth. Camel, when he does so, has eyes only for Laura (Julie Scheibling), a girl who deals with this sort of unwanted attention by bullying all the boys considered ugly. Hervé believes he would be happy with any female attention at all, but he too can be a bully, almost without thinking, when approached by a girl whose social standing is even lower than his; and when the smart, attractive, comparatively sophisticated Aurore (Alice Trémolière) starts to flirt with him, his primary reaction is one of panic. The only sexual narratives he understands come from underwear catalogues and D&D games. How can he cope with a situation in which he might actually be expected to do something?

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It's an old story, but rarely has it been this appealingly told. All the film's young stars give open, naturalistic performances that remind us how easy it is to take utterly stupid things for granted at that age, and to be naive in a way that leaves one open to real pain. Everything is overblown and dramatic but forgotten again within days. Meanwhile, quietly complicated minor characters play out their own dramas in the background - the lesbian teacher trying to balance classroom authority with a political voice; the depressed, distant biology teacher; and Hervé's pushy, overfamiliar mother, trying to find her own life on the margins of his. Sexuality seems central to every aspect of life, inescapable, as another teacher raps her long black boots on the desk to get attention. But there's much more to life, of course, and it's only through their clumsy liaisons that our heroes begin to get to grips with this.

Tender yet casually cruel, angstful yet joyous, this is a charming portrait of young lives colliding at a point where it really does feel like anything could happen. It's quirkily funny and for all its protagonists' failings one can't help but like them. A great little film, well worth checking out.

Reviewed on: 16 Dec 2010
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A geeky underachiever finds his life turning around when the prettiest girl in his class declares an interest in him - but both are nervous, and they soon discover that relationships are fragile things.
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Director: Riad Sattouf

Starring: Vincent Lacoste, Anthony Sonigo, Alice Tremoliere

Year: 2009

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: France


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