Wild Reeds

My choices are not, I feel, unbearably esoteric but several of the films that I most love appear to be virtually unobtainable - except as broken up versions on YouTube or on VHS or as over-priced second hand DVDs.

One that I had acquired, before this miserable fate be fell me, is Andre Techine's 'Wild Reeds' (and as Les Roseaux Sauvages it is available in a remastered version in the original French without any subtitles). I watched it again  yesterday and it is a beautiful film.

Set in 1962, it follows the lives of four adolescents - three boys and a girl - as they approach adulthood, their baccalaureate, and new opportunities. One, Henri, is, at least by the calendar, already 'there', as he is a twenty one year old yet his consistent failure to graduate holds him back.

The backdrop is the convulsive war in Algeria that spread to civil strife in France. Serge (one of the four) has a brother who is a conscript in the French army who is killed by an OAS bomb (French resisters to Algeria's independence) whilst Henri's father (a pied noirs - a longstanding French resident of Algeria) has, himself, been killed by an FLN bomb (FLN being the Algerian liberation movement) and sympathises with the OAS.

This tangled, painful politics creates a depth to the lives of the struggling adolescents and the miracle of the film is to depict the everyday against the flow of history. We live in time, and time's place matters and conditions our lives, yet, at the same time, something universal flows on past, touched by history but not wholly conditioned by it.

This is most amply illustrated by Francoise, the central character, who is a sensitive young man, who whilst allied to his platonic girlfriend, Maite, is attracted in turn towards Serge and Henri. His struggle is timeless -  not least in resolving his sexuality. This is a universal given yet it is captured in time and its expression is narrated by the possibilities of his time and place. There is a wonderful scene where he goes to the local shoe shop to ask for counsel from the proprietor (the only gay man in the village) who cannot give it because he is trapped in his own accommodation with what is seen to be presently possible; and, cannot, for fear, step out of it.

It is all beautifully observed - we live always in, at least, two realities - a universal one where we find ourselves puzzling again over what it means to be an adult and a relative one where we realise that the universal struggle is conditioned by the particularities of a particular time and place.

The recognition is, of course, that if we live the former, wholly and sincerely, it will continually break open the latter towards new possibilities.

The four discover this in their unlikely friendship, given their competing backgrounds, and it gives rise to an underlying empathy, rooted in the transcendence of their common humanity.


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