BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: foul-mouthed French teens.

WHILE THIS could probably be loosely called a teenage romantic comedy, L’Esquive (Games of Love and Chance) is about as far away from the usual Hollywood teenage histrionics as you can possibly get. It’s a tale of the awkwardness of adolescent love, told in the backdrop of Parisian housing units with a dash of cultural and financial desperation. This is Tunisian-born French director Abdel Kechiche’s second film, and is ultimately a rather touching piece of work.

Krimo (Osman Elkharraz) is a shy teenager, who’s just been dumped by his long-standing girlfriend. He barely communicates with adults, with his father in prison, and life just coasts along at school. However, when convinced to watch his “homey”, Lydia (Sara Forestier) rehearse a scene from a play by Marivaux, (the famous contemporary of Voltaire), he suddenly finds himself drawn to her. Before too long, he’s bribed the lead actor and finds himself acting opposite Lydia, despite displaying little, if any, aptitude for acting.

Based in a similar setting (eg the housing units in the banlieues) to the French social realist classic La Haine, one might expect a similarly gritty film. And admittedly, there was a feeling of desperation associated with the characters. Most weren’t particularly well-off, came from broken homes and were just casually strolling through life. This was especially during a rather frightening (but effective) police scene that threatened to derail the narrative trajectory. Thankfully though, the touch throughout was admirably light. The visuals also fitted into the conventions of social realism with banal, muted and dull surroundings. The actors were filmed in Dardenne Brothers-esque close-ups, almost removing the characters from their very surroundings.

However, the film was more intent on touching on love and adolescence. The characters were remarkably well-drawn and human – Kechiche achieved this through wonderful dialogue and top-notch acting. The film wasn’t improvised, but the dialogue felt authentic and credible. Not only that, the dialogue was particularly effective in driving the narrative and emotions. The frequent slang and profanity led me to consider the sheer difficulty of trying to subtitle this film. The acting was brilliant, in particular Forestier, who not only looks like a young Emmanuelle Béart, but has the same intensity (a star in the making). Also hilarious was Sabrina Ouazani as Lydia’s well I guess you can call her friend, who would frequently descend into shouting and arguing. The funny part was that she was almost always justified in doing so, it just never went down too well with everybody else.

L’Esquive managed to capture something that most films who attempt to do so, don’t even come close to accurately capturing – adolescence. The film also managed to do so in a compelling, non-patronising and ultimately enjoyable way.