LGBT Movies: Wild Reeds (1994)

In Wild Reeds four French youths debate politics and suffer unrequited love. André Téchiné’s autobiographical film allows homosexuals, communists, the workers and the middle classes to interact. They find acceptance and learn survival skills. There’s little plot but the characters are distinct and complex.

The film was made for television as part of a teen focused series. It went on a successful theatrical release, launched careers and won awards. Today it’s hard to track down, which is a shame. The film deserves a second look.

Learn more in this spoiler filled recap.

Act One: Love  

Scene One: A Wedding. Southern France. 1962.
FRANÇOIS (A bourgeois teen): Can’t we just go to the movies?
MAÏTÉ (His sensible “girlfriend.”): Behave.
SERGE (A farmer’s son): Want to dance?
MAÏTÉ: I don’t dance.
GROOM (Serge’s brother): I’m off to die in the French-Algerian War.

Scene Two: School
TEACHER: Everyone’s essay sucked except the gay boys’ François’.
SERGE: You’re smart. If you write my next essay, I’ll do you a favor.
FRANÇOIS: Gosh I don’t know.
HENRI (a snarky Algerian pied-noir): Ask him for a blow job.
FRANÇOIS: SHUT UP HENRI!
SERGE: How about a hand job instead?
(Serge and François hook up.)

Scene Three: A Party
PARTY GUEST: Want to dance?
MAÏTÉ: I don’t dance.
FRANÇOIS: I slept with a guy.
MAÏTÉ: I knew there was a reason I feel safe with you. Let’s dance!
(François and Maïté dance. It’s adorable.)

Act Two: War

Scene Four: School
FRANÇOIS: (Reads a poem for class) “The oak tree falls in the wind. The wild reeds bend but do not break.”
SERGE: My brother died in the French-Algerian war! I don’t want Henri around! (Serge and Henri fight.)
FRANÇOIS: Be reasonable. Henri’s smart and cool and handsome and…
HENRI: You’re so repressed. Why don’t you blow me and get it over with?
FRANÇOIS: SHUT UP HENRI!   

Scene Five: Communist Headquarters
HENRI: You communists supported the Algerian rebels that destroyed my family. I should burn this place to the ground.
MAÏTÉ: I like that you’re sad.  

Scene Six: Gay Shoe Store
FRANÇOIS: Someone told me you’re gay and I’m in love with a boy and we slept together and he won’t do it again and I don’t know how to quit him so what should I do?
GAY STORE CLERK: Buy shoes?

Act Three: Growth

Scene Seven: Lake
(Serge and François frolic in their briefs. Henri and Maïté hook up in the bushes.)
FRANÇOIS: This movie’s nearly over. Do you want me or not?
SERGE: No.
HENRI: I’m leaving town. Join me?  
MAÏTÉ: No.
(Henri leaves. Maïté hugs François and cries.)
FRANÇOIS: It’s all right. We’re like wild reeds. We’ll bend in the wind but not break.
MAÏTÉ: Shut up François.

THE END

Blow Winds Blow

The death of a brother is tough, I thought I’d die. But there’s something even tougher, tougher than war, it’s that life goes on.

Serge, Wild Reeds

Serge keeps his cards to his chest. It’s unclear why he seduced François or what he feels for him afterwards. But the death of his brother shuts something down in him. He’s not against an intimate bike ride or a near-naked swim. But they don’t stir romantic feelings. François, meanwhile, is an open book. An early scene finds him muttering anti-gay slurs to himself in a mirror. But his compassionate friends steer him in a healthier direction.

Henri’s the oldest of the group. We learn that he’s failed school several times and fears graduating into the adult world. Maïté seems the most confident but has put up many walls. They see through each other’s defenses and do not judge what they find.

The novice leads would move on to long careers. Gaël Morel (François) would direct several films starring his Wild Reeds co-stars. Knowledge of the Algerian War for Independence adds layers to the screenplay. But the coming-of-age themes resonate regardless.

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