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FRENCH KISSERS, THE

SYNOPSIS:
While 14 year old Herve (Vincent Lacoste) and his sidekick Camel (Anthony Sonigo) are forever fantasising over their female classmates, they're rarely able to go as far as actually talk to any of them, other than mumble a few incoherent insults. But when Herve inexplicably catches the eye of the sweet but equally hormone-fuelled Aurore (Alice Tremolieres), he's pushed to choose between his first probable girlfriend, his unquenchable libido, and his best friend.

Review by Louise Keller
Man-boy (You Think You're A Man) goes the lyric of the song that plays over the closing credits. And that's exactly what the film's about. Riad Sattouf's debut film is an expressive ode to the awkward sexual awakening of a teenage boy, zits and all. There's no slick plot, no prince charming on a white horse, just the bumpy, every day reality of a fourteen year old boy whose thoughts are consumed by sex and girls. It's easy to see how The French Kissers captured its audience at Cannes in the Director's Fortnight section of the 2009 Festival. It's very French and the film is painfully honest as it captures the discomfort and clumsy point of view of a boy about to turn the inevitable corner into manhood. Candid and funny, this rough, tough and tumble coming of age film has a raw quality that gives it its uniqueness and charm.

Life is inside out and upside down for Vincent Lacoste's gauche Hervé who confides in his friends that he likes 'pretty feet'. Truth is, it is more than female feet that occupy his mind. The braces on his teeth are a symbol of constraint and all the things that are stopping him from discovering and experimenting about everything to do with sex. Masturbation, erections, practising sloppy kissing on the bathroom mirror, fantasising about lingerie models in magazines and peeking at the sexual adventures of a curvaceous neighbour are all part of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and the rest of the week. When pretty and self-assured Aurore (Alice Trémolière) shows her interest, Hervé's world takes a spin. There's kissing and tongues get a work-out. The tongue caresses the ear, the face and the cheek. Where does the saliva go? There's the teasing and chat with his friends, especially Arabic friend Camel (Anthony Sonigo), who is into heavy metal and has a thing for Laura (Julie Scheibling), another pretty girl in class, who is definitely not interested.

Sattouf excels at portraying the relationships. There's the wonderfully loose relationship between Hervé and his divorced mother (Noémie Lvovsky, terrific), who knows exactly what his son is up to (and what that sock is used for), the banter between the school friends and the girls. We are there for the insults, the rejections and the inelegance of puberty. I especially like the scene when Hervé and Aurore are sitting in a café imagining themselves through the passers by they see: the arm-in-arm elderly married couple, the young couple pushing a pram, the man strolling with his oversize teenage son.... It's a glimpse into a very specific world that is lodged between childhood and adulthood, and one that screams with candour.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The fumbling and bumbling and raging hormones of early adolescence are only funny to those who survive them; adults. I suppose it's also funny to other teenagers who are not involved. Anyone at arm's length, in fact, from the actual characters. In this fresh, exuberant French comedy of teenage love/lust/romance and other deadly serious matters that threaten life on a daily basis, there are no messages. Perhaps one, for mothers of teenage boys: stay out of their bedrooms.

Written in the ink of painful experience, Raid Sattouf's screenplay rests his humour on reality; like Absolutely Fabulous (say) the material is serious to the point of tragedy. These characters survive emotionally by the skin of their teeth - and a few don't. Vincent Lacoste is the epitome of young nerdiness who likes to think (but doesn't believe) that he's a suave and sexy man. He isn't of course. His hair is a mess, his pimples are ferocious and his experience with girls is zip. His Arab school friend Camel (Anthony Sonigo) alternates between envy and frustration with his friend, but it's all together when it comes to perving on women, whether in the flesh or in the magazines. They are examples of normal, natural, well meaning, struggling, flawed and struggling 'beaut kids' as Australians might translate the French title.

One of the hits of Directors Fortnight at Cannes, the film also has all the attributes of a commercial coming of age comedy.

Sattouf and his co-writer Marc Syrigas explore the subject with verve and barbed accuracy; they also treat the multicultural fabric of modern France with a natural jocularity that is both comfortable and poignant. All the observations about contempo French society are seamless and matter of course. But that makes them all the more valid and dynamic.

The girls are portrayed as different, but certainly not morally superior. There is a casual emotional violence to all the characters that rings true; that's how we are before we mature and learn how to measure our venom and our response. All of this makes the film easy to digest, engaging and entertaining - especially with a demonstrative crowd. It has real heart and captures real feelings we recognise - or even vaguely remember.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

FRENCH KISSERS, THE (MA)
(France, 2009)

Les beaux gosses

CAST: Vincent Lacoste, Anthony Sonigo, Emmanuelle Devos, Noemie Lvonksy, Irene Jacob, Valeria Golino, Alice Tremolieres

PRODUCER: Anne-Dominique Toussaint

DIRECTOR: Riad Sattouf

SCRIPT: Riad Sattouf, Marc Syrigas

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dominique Colin

EDITOR: Virginie Bruant

MUSIC: Laurent Benaim

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2009 (Special advance screenings December 11, 12, 13 and 18, 19, 20)







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