The directorial debut of Monja Art is an angsty teen drama that seems perfectly engineered to speak to its target audience. Seventeen (Siebzehn) manages to convey the messiness of relationships during later teenage years, acknowledging the first glimpses of emotional trauma without reserving any judgement for the often reckless behaviour of the characters. For older viewers long divorced from this moment in their lifetime, it may prove hard to fully acclimatise to the character study; the messy, fraught emotions on display may have the dramatic subtlety of your average soap opera, but considering the boredom, alienation and sexual frustration of almost every character here, it feels believable largely because of this.
In a boarding school deep in the Austrian countryside, Paula and Charlotte (Elisabeth Wabitsch and Anaelle Dézsy respectively) are secretly in love. The only problem is that Charlotte is dating one of their classmates, leading Paula to feel increasingly distant – so she also falls into a relationship with a classmate who bears feelings for her she’s too emotionally preoccupied to reciprocate. As romantic webs entangle across various different social groups, Paula and Charlotte keep falling in and out of each other’s arms.
Monja Art manages to perfectly capture the sense of teen alienation through setting alone. The boarding school setting may seem to suggest a movie about the problems of posh kids, but the film is most effective if you view this is a metaphor for their emotional states of being. Despite being set in a school environment, we only glimpse one teacher, while the village is cut off from the wider world, with only a tacky weekend disco to provide entertainment. To heighten this sense of feeling detached, both emotionally and physically, there is only one bus connecting the village to neighbouring areas- and even that repeatedly doesn’t turn up.
Her film also manages to feel contemporary in the lack of judgement reserved for the central lesbian relationship when it is eventually revealed. The pair aren’t particularly worried about their concealed sexualities as they are worried about incompatible feelings for each other – and the rest of the characters treat the news of their hook-ups with the same friendly, jokey nature as they would upon hearing it about a straight couple. Even in well intentioned teen movies, the best written LGBT characters are still written to discuss their sexuality at length. Here, it’s treated with a blasé attitude, secondary to the general emotional complexities of young adulthood.
Seventeen (Siebzehn) is a chaotic film, but this feels necessary in order to translate the emotional messiness of teenage life to the screen. It may not be as idealised or as iconic as a John Hughes movie, but the emotions contained within will likely feel a lot more relatable to the target audience as a result.