18 Years Old And Rising is another example of why I absolutely love French cinema; more specifically in the way it portrays young people. This is a coming of age story about a young man, and what it does right is give us a real character. He isn’t a character who is wise beyond his years; he is an actual 18 year old and one that is so easily relatable.
The film tells the story of Primo (Pierre Niney), he lives away from home to study, his father resents the fact that he failed his previous exams and his mother defends him. Upon returning home in order to vote (the film is set in May 1981 with Mitterrand’s election dividing the people) but as his father becomes nasty, Primo leaves and stumbles upon a party which he decides to sneak into. He meets Gabrielle (Lou de Laâge) and immediately falls for her, she’s an upper class Parisian, as are her friends. Her best friend Delphine (Audrey Bastien) falls for Primo, and a kind of love triangle forms between them. Meanwhile Primo tries to hide who he really is, and instead of putting the money his mother gives him away for rent, he uses it to keep up the charade. Primo continues to make bad decisions, but that is all a part of growing up.
This was a nice surprise, and I quite enjoyed it for the most part. It is a funny and emotional, and in some ways rather sweet. The film changes from Act to Act, but it works in telling its story. Primo is a complex character, someone who has no real direction in life (been there many times) and he wants to be someone he isn’t, because he thinks that’s what the girl he falls for wants. He is blind to the fact that these things don’t matter to others, and his decisions are based on these things, which he cannot really see. As much as I liked the character of Primo, I wanted to slap him sideways for some of the things he did. You can see these mistakes coming miles away, yet Primo can’t because he doesn’t look ahead. He really is an honest portrayal of someone that age, and he really is a natural character.
The performances here are great, Pierre Niney was fantastic as Primo. He managed to reach all sorts of levels and complexities, and made this a fully realised character. He reminded me a lot of Andrew Garfield, similar looks and similar acting abilities. Lou de Laâge was great as well, Gabrielle is the kind of girl that is self-centred but doesn’t hesitate to go after what she wants. It is easy to see why Primo falls for her, but at the same time you can clearly see she isn’t what he thinks she is. Also impressive was Audrey Bastien as the girl who falls for Primo, there was more to her performance than just being a third wheel and she really pulled it off well. The trio here were all memorable, and a talented bunch. The other actors did well, however these are the three you’ll be remembering.
This felt like a very personal piece for director and co-writer Fred Louf, perhaps even autobiographical? It honestly felt that way, and perhaps this is why it worked so well. The script (co-written with Régis Jaulin) is very well done, and through the direction and performances it really came alive. I highly recommend this film, another fantastic coming of age story and that really does feel real.