There’s a good chance if someone asked you to look back on scars left by your teenage years, everyone would have something different to show. In Monja Arts’ Seventeen (Siebzehn), a small group of 17 year olds – all in very different stages of love and life – prove just how true that can be.
Being 17 is a universal experience, but it’s not an equal one. Walking into a high school classroom, you can see 17 year olds that barely seem older than 11 and teens that seem like they’ve already lived 40 years. In Seventeen, Paula (Elisabeth Wabitsch) is one such teen that seems wiser beyond her years. Living as a partial caretaker to her disabled father, she’s more driven and focused than her classmates, but the one thing she’s still not smart enough to avoid is teen angst.
Paula is in love with Charlotte, a girl in her class. Charlotte is dating Michael but clearly has feelings for Paula as well. To try and move past her unrequited feelings, Paula falls into encounters with a soft-spoken – read “sensitive” – boy named Tim, and the sexually liberated Lilli. The cast and location all feel very small, the high school, the local bar and club appear to be the only places in town that the teens can hang out. Which of course means they’re running into each other – a lot. The film masterfully builds tension between what is and isn’t said between Paula and Charlotte, and it’s really nice to see that their main hurdle isn’t a clichéd “coming out” dilemma, but just a very simple inability to communicate. Being gay doesn’t seem to be a problem for any of the kids in the school, and whether this is true to reality or not, same-sex relationships and attraction are accepted from the outset as just par for the course. It’s refreshing to be watching a teen love story about teenage girls that follows none of the beats of a traditional “coming out story” – because Seventeen isn’t a coming out story. It’s a brilliant exploration of the kind of experience that stays with you forever – unrequited love and human mistakes that can seem like the end of your life.
The stakes are incredibly high when you’re 17, or at least they feel like they are – Who do you want to be? Who do you want to be with? Sometimes though, despite spending hours and days thinking about “the one” that you need to be with, a small bout of relief is found in the arms of literally anyone. The temporary relief of sex is of course quickly replaced with the sinking feeling that it wasn’t right, or with the right person and it’s something that everyone can understand but still breaks your heart to see. Seventeen could not be a better option for those nostalgic for their teen years and may even be cathartic to those who are still thinking about the one that got away.
The Melbourne premiere of Seventeen is on tonight, Tuesday 20 March as part of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival. Tickets are available online via the MQFF website.