Criterion Prediction #204: Wild Reeds, by Alexander Miller
Title: Wild Reeds
Director: André Téchiné
Cast: Gael Morel, Élodie Bouchez, Stephane Rideau, Frédéric Gorny
Synopsis: Four teenagers, Francois, Maïté, Serge and Henri undergo a pivotal period of transformation and personal awakening in this moving coming-of-age story set during the final days of the Algerian War.
Critique: There’s an enticing sense of movement at the heart of Téchiné’s cinema, likely in part thanks to his deeply felt writing and the personal nature of his stories but so much of his technical prowess and command of tone feel fluid and intuitive. While his collaborations with Olivier Assayas (Rendez-vous namely) are touted as the best of his filmography, Wild Reeds feels like the more rightful candidate for the director’s best. Given Téchiné’s relation to its time and place and personal nature of the narrative, Wild Reeds does operate with the unpredictable assurance of personal experience. The locale prominently features glistening streams, sunbleached pastures and rocky outcroppings. The earthy southwest region of France provides us with a provincial remove. In contrast to the cloistered busyness of Parisian city life, Wild Reeds is elevated by its unrefined environment.
In the film’s balancing act of sexual discovery amid coming of age arcs, a four-spoked character wheel incorporates significant political import regarding France’s role in the occupation of Algeria. The divisive cultural impact is carried with subtle poignancy. For some characters, it’s a constant source of attention; for others, it’s another one of life’s obstacles. Arriving post-nouvelle vague while predating the queer cinema movement, Téchiné’s personally informed tales of young, gay love are articulate and matter of fact punctuated with organic technical prowess. Téchiné, paired with the cinematography of Jeanine Lapoirie, is curious, weightless at times, favoring long shots contrasted with tightly fastened intimate compositions. Like the film in its entirety, Wild Reeds is an affair of unforced beauty and softly spoken substance and one of the best efforts from a low-key auteur who would rather whisper than shout.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: This column has favored Téchiné in the past (CP#152), looking at his classic Rendez-vous. Given Criterion’s affinity for Assayas, who scripted Téchiné’s title mentioned above, it felt like a qualifier for a future Criterion release. However, Wild Reeds is equally worth the distinction on its own merits, not because of any connection to another filmmaker. Having recently re-visited the film thanks to The Criterion Channel, Wild Reeds feels all the more relevant today than ever. Seeing as the streaming version of the film looks lovingly restored, it seems like we can anticipate the inauguration of Téchiné to the Collection.