Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.
It would seem that despite watching films made a good three decades apart, I can’t seem to get away from the French war with Algeria lately. Les Roseaux Sauvages (Wild Reeds) is set firmly in this time period, and we discover this within the first couple of minutes. The film opens at a marriage. The two being married are not central characters to the film, but they establish the time and the Algerian conflict for us immediately. The older brother of Serge, we learn, asked three different girls to marry him. One agrees, which gets him a three-day pass for the wedding. He hopes to use this time as a chance to escape the war in Algeria.
This is more or less a chance to introduce us to the main cast. The first of our players is Francois (Gael Morel), a young man at a boarding school. The aforementioned Serge (Stephane Rideau) is another student there. Francois is friends with Maite Alvarez (Elodie Bouchez), the daughter of the two boys’ literature teacher (Michele Moretti). She is initially important because, as an anti-war communist, she might be able to help Serge’s brother avoid returning to the war. She refuses to help, which leads to an unpleasant situation. The final important character here is Henri (Frederic Gorny), who is French and white, but was born in Algeria and has come to France to avoid the conflict.
Despite all of this initial focus on the Algerian war, this is not a film about this sort of conflict. No, Les Roseaux Sauvages is a coming of age story. One thing that is immediately evident is that despite their initial animosity, there is a great deal of attraction between Francois and Serge. This is more or less an experiment for Serge, but it triggers something in Francois, who discovers through this that he has homosexual tendencies. When he reveals this to Maite, it changes their relationship, as it becomes evident that she was interested in Francois as well. It also gives her a way to rebuff Serge’s eventual advances toward her. And eventually, Henri expresses interest in Maite as well, throwing everything into confusion.
The sexual and non-sexual relationships here are what is the most interesting, of course, since these are the focus of the film. It’s worth noting that the characters in this film are in their late teens—we aren’t seeing the sexual awakening of 14- and 15-year-olds, but legal adults, of emotional pubescents. If I remember correctly, thanks to multiple failures in school, Henri is 21. This goes a long way toward preventing the “creepy” factor of watching young kids having sex.
I got about halfway through this, perhaps a little further, when I came to a realization—regardless of how interesting this story might be, regardless of how well written and acted it is, I kind of don’t really care that much about it. I can’t say that I dislike the film at all, because I certainly don’t. But I don’t care as much about these characters as I should. They should be people that I can identify with or feel something for, and my take on all of them is pretty much neutral.
No doubt a part of my reticence to truly get personally or emotionally involved in this film comes strictly from the vast amount of angsty behavior in it. Everything is highly emotional and meaningful as only it can be when we are dealing with people at this age. Everything is completely serious. It’s all so deeply meaningful to the four people involved that I almost want to take it as humorous. This eventually culminates in Maite having a complete breakdown over a bathing suit.
What it comes down to is that this is another film that I’m not sure made much of an impression on me. I suppose it’s noteworthy in its handling of homosexuality—it’s less a stigma and more a fact in this film, and that’s something to appreciate. However, that seems like more a function of when the film was made rather than of when it takes place. And the ending seems terribly forced, like a place the film wanted to get to, but didn’t completely earn through the story it tells.
Why to watch Les Roseaux Sauvages: A unique look at the love that, in 1994, still dared not speak its name.
Why not to watch: It doesn’t earn anything it concludes.