From left, Esther Garrel, Roxane Duran, Louise Grinberg and Juliette Darche in the film “17 Girls,” based on real events.
There is no underestimating the intensity of teenage peer pressure when a queen bee has a crazy idea. In Delphine and Muriel Coulin’s “17 Girls,” Camille (Louise Grinberg), the imperious alpha girl in her high school class, becomes pregnant. Encouraged by Camille, her female classmates follow suit.
This French film, based on real events that took place in Gloucester, Mass., in 2008, has been relocated to Lorient, a shabby port city on the Brittany coast and the hometown of the filmmakers, who are sisters. The movie takes you inside the dreamy collective mentality of bored, mildly rebellious girls who look with horror at the lives of their mostly working-class parents. A core group makes a pact to have babies simultaneously and bring up their children together. The inner circle widens, and in short order 17 girls are pregnant.
One is so desperate to belong that she volunteers to pay a boy 50 euros (about $65) to impregnate her. Another fakes pregnancy by stuffing her shirt with a pillow and is exiled when her ruse is discovered. As the girls’ bellies swell, the camera follows them to ultrasound scans and birthing classes. As for the boys, most hover in the background, appearing only long enough to serve their purpose.
Wavering between light comedy and drama with wonderfully natural performances, “17 Girls” doesn’t judge anyone’s behavior. In scenes of a faculty meeting and of a principal addressing irate parents, befuddlement reigns. There is talk of distributing birth-control pills and of setting up a condom dispensary. In one scene the students, shown a close-up film of an actual birth, avert their eyes and make retching noises.
“17 Girls” eventually shows a few of the hazards its dreamers have failed to anticipate, but even then its cautionary tone remains soft. Although the movie fades into a narrative murk, it excels at evoking the balance between child and grown-up in these partly unformed women, whose bravado compensates for all they lack in knowledge and experience. Their determination forms an unbreachable wall between them and adult authority.
As a voice-over late in the movie reminds us, “At 17, you’re bursting with wild energy, and nothing can stop you.”
Opens on Friday in Manhattan.
Written and directed by Delphine and Muriel Coulin; director of photography, Jean-Louis Vialard; edited by Guy Lecorne; set design by Benoît Pfauwadel; costumes by Dorothée Guiraud; produced by Denis Freyd; released by Strand Releasing. At the Lincoln Plaza, Broadway and 62nd Street. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Louise Grinberg (Camille), Juliette Darche (Julia), Roxane Duran (Florence), Esther Garrel (Flavie), Yara Pilartz (Clémentine), Solène Rigot (Mathilde), Noémie Lvovsky (School Nurse), Florence Thomassin (Camille’s mother), Carlo Brandt (Head of the School), Frédéric Noaille (Florian) and Arthur Verret (Tom).
Article original publié le 20 sept dans le New York Times