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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Seventeen ***

Starring: Elisabeth Wabitsch, Anaelle Dezsy, Alexandra Schmidt, Alexander Wychodil

Director: Monja Art

UK: Austria

LGBT teen coming-of-age dramas are numerous nowadays. From Argentina to Australia, their universality is so compelling that everyone can relate to their stories of innocence, burgeoning sexuality and earnest naiveté. But while audiences have proved time and again that there’s a market for films like these, doing something truly original with the genre is not something we see every day and unfortunately, we don’t see that in new Austrian movie, Seventeen.

Paula (Wabitsch) is seventeen and in the final years of high school in rural Austria. She is wildly (but secretly) in love with her friend Charlotte (Dezsy), who seems happy with her boyfriend. She decides to date a boy (Wychodil) instead, but when the voracious Lilli (Schmidt) starts to take an interest – despite having previously bullied her – she must decide between love, lust or self-preservation.

While we are following Paula, this is really an ensemble drama, in which we are seeing a cohort of students taking their first steps in adulthood. Paula is likeable enough but her indecisiveness can be grating, although it is helped by brief moments of realised fantasy in which we see her desires played out before we are then confronted with reality. Lilli makes for an absorbing antagonist/love rival, but Charlotte is pretty wet in comparison. And elsewhere, the others are essentially a role call of your high school stereotypes: the bad boy, the jock, the gossip.

While there is plenty going on in terms of plot, it’s all a bit angst-by-numbers without anything to make it unique. Shots of combine harvesters and scenes in abandoned buildings underline repeatedly that we are miles from civilisation, but with Lilli acting out sexually and not a head being turned, the feeling of isolated suffocation the filmmaker is clearly driving for falls somewhat flat. This is the countryside, but it’s still a 2019 countryside in a developed country.

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