Release Date(s)1994 (March 28, 2023)
Studio(s)Ima Films/Les Films Alain Sarde (Altered Innocence/Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B-
Wild Reeds, a coming-of-age drama set in 1962 during the end of the Algerian War, is filled with sexual tension as four young people attempt to balance their human desires with inner conflict.
Francois (Gael Morel), Maite (Elodie Bouchez), and Serge (Stephane Rideau) are friends at a French boarding school. Francois and Maite are best friends and have never been physically intimate. Uncertain of his sexuality, lacking experience, and trying to understand his desires, Francois often confides in Maite, an attentive and sympathetic listener. Serge is a moody farm boy grieving the death of his older brother in the war. Francois and Serge have sex. Serge shrugs it off as a one-time experiment but Francois has strong feelings for him. A fourth student, Henri (Frederic Gorny), is an Algerian-born French boy who fled with his family to France.
Director Andre Techine’s semi-autobiographical film looks back at his final year in boarding school. Rather than strive for a nostalgic vibe, he takes a serious look at teenagers struggling with their self-image as war brings new faces into their circle. Think of Wild Reeds as a character study of four individuals who feel themselves to be outsiders.
Francois doesn’t know where he fits in and is beginning to recognize his homosexuality. Maite and her mother are Communists at a time when Communism is in vogue. She’s in love with intellectual Francois but frightened of a physical relationship. Serge is consumed with grief and anger. Henri is the odd fellow, new to his classmates. Sullen and bitter, Henri seems angry at everyone and everything. Maite calls him a fascist, yet surprisingly bonds with him when they see each other as troubled human beings. Techine establishes that although the social and political climate contribute to a person’s development, friendship and love might be more significant factors.
Coming-of-age films proliferate and many are variations on the same template. But this sensitive film has a sincerity of purpose and characters that are believable and vulnerable. There’s no picture-perfect resolution to the characters’ dilemmas and it’s clear that they are merely temporary episodes. It’s instead a glimpse into the lives of four teens transitioning into adulthood at a time when their environment is in turmoil as well. Neither children nor adults, they awkwardly make their way through life in search of their own identity.
Wild Reeds was shot by director of photography Jeanne Lapoirie with spherical lenses on 35 mm film and presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Contrast and detail are sharp, with beaded water on faces, patterns in clothing, a rushing river, the lush French countryside, and classroom desks and furnishings nicely delineated. Complexions are especially well photographed and emphasize innocence and vulnerability. A tracking shot follows Serge and Francois as they ride together on a motor scooter. An early scene of a wedding ceremony takes place outdoors on a sunny day with guests enjoying food and drink as they celebrate the bonding of a young couple.
The soundtrack is French 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. English subtitles are available. Dialogue (in French) is clear and distinct. Though the film is about French teenagers, American pop songs of the early 60s are heard on the soundtrack. They include Barbara Ann (The Beach Boys), Runaway (Del Shannon), Let’s Twist Again (Chubby Checker), and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (The Platters). Classical pieces by Samuel Barber, Mozart, and Johann Strauss accompany scenes of the young people in the beautiful French countryside. Sound effects include rain, rushing river water, and Serge’s motor scooter.
Bonus materials include the following:
- Discord, Bloom and Light: The Poetic Pulse of Andre Techine’s Wild Reeds: A Video Essay by Daniel Kremer (17:28)
- Interview with Stephane Rideau (24:00)
- Restoration Trailer (1:52)
- Elisa Trailer (1:54)
- Beautiful Beings Trailer (1:54)
- Sound and Fury Trailer (1:36)
- Stop – Zemlia Trailer (1:40)
Discord, Bloom and Light – The La Fontaine fable The Oak and the the Willow serves as the basis of the film’s title, referring to the resilience of its characters. A reference in Wild Reeds to the poet Rimbaud evokes Rimbaud’s relationship with fellow poet Verlain. This relationship was covered in the films A Season in Hell and Total Eclipse and in Bob Dylan’s song You’re Going to Make Me Lonesome When You Go. Director Andre Techine evokes Louis Malle in the scene of the instructor discussing the style and form of students’ writing as she returns their essays. The characters in the film relate to individuals Techine had known. In the film, Serge is the instrument of another’s sexual awakening. Wild Reeds is compared to the film Call Me By Your Name. Francois speaks what’s in his heart. He’s desperate to know how to handle his desires, which represent his identity. The film is a “tapestry of young identities braided with youthful desires.” In life, coming of age is the first act of speaking out.
Interview with Stephane Rideau – In this 2022 interview, Rideau explains the lengthy casting process he experienced for Wild Reeds. A casting agent noticed him as he was practicing rugby at school. He and a few other boys were selected to audition. He was called back to do a screen test and was given the dormitory scene to prepare. The auditions eliminated all but a few boys. He did the same scene with Gael Morel (Francois) for director Andre Techine. After Wild Reeds, Rideau worked in casting and as an actor. Rideau speaks in French. English subtitles appear at the bottom of the screen.
Though Wild Reeds doesn’t have a neat storybook ending, it’s clear that the characters have learned about themselves and grown as people. The screenplay, direction, and performances concentrate on how each new emotion affects characters. The conversations among the teenagers are mature, open, and extremely personal, which gives the movie authenticity.
- Dennis Seuling