In France, the complex teenage years are sometimes called l’âge bête, the stupid age. These coming-of-age films portray succeeding generations of French teenagers.

Le Blé en Herbe
(The Game of Love) Claude Autant-Lara, 1954

Childhood friends Phil (Pierre-Michel Beck), 16, and Vinca (Nicole Berger), 15, fall in love one summer, but don’t know how to deal with their new feelings and desires. Phil meets an older woman (Edwige Feuillère) who takes it upon herself to initiate him sexually, with devastating consequences for the young couple. Set in the early 1920s, the film is based on a novel by Colette. It was considered scandalous upon its release and banned in some towns in France for its open evocation of sexuality.

A Nous les Petites Anglaises (Let’s Get Those English Girls) Michel Lang, 1976

A hilarious comedy set in 1959. After failing their baccalauréat (high school graduation exam), Alain and Jean-Pierre are sent by their parents to spend the summer living with British families. The two teenage boys are much more interested in girls, but they soon learn that improving their English can help their seduction skills.

Diabolo Menthe (Peppermint Soda), Diane Kurys, 1977

Diabolo Menthe, 1977

This autobiographical first film follows two Jewish teenage sisters during the 1963 school year in Paris, as 13-year-old Anne (Eléonore Klarwein) and 15-year-old Frédérique try to make sense of the changes happening inside themselves and in the society around them. As they discover love, the value of friendship and political awareness, they begin to construct their womanhood. Acclaimed by both critics and audiences, Diabolo Menthe won the coveted Prix Louis Delluc.

Une Vraie Jeune Fille (A Real Young Girl) Catherine Breillat, 1976

Catherine Breillat’s provocative first film, based on her fourth novel, was made in 1976 but not released until 1999. It centers on her favorite theme: the hidden side of female sexuality. Fourteen-year-old Alice returns from boarding school to her parents’ farm for the summer holidays. Increasingly aware of her sexual feelings, she indulges in erotic daydreams and finally seduces one of her father’s employees. The sexually explicit scenes foreshadow the daring style of director Breillat, who has become one of France’s most controversial filmmakers.

La Boum (The Party) Claude Pinoteau, 1980

The film follows Vic (Sophie Marceau in the role that made her an instant star), age 13, as she goes through the joy and pain of her first romance while her parents (Claude Brasseur and Brigitte Fossey) experience their own emotional turmoil. Two long party scenes (boums), highlights of this joyful and charming film, perfectly capture the essence of teenage life in the 1980s. After the movie’s phenomenal success, Pinoteau directed a sequel, La Boum 2, in 1982.

LOL (Laughing Out Loud) Lisa Azuelos, 2008

This enjoyable comedy that parallels La Boum stars Sophie Marceau, almost 30 years after her debut, this time as the mother. We follow Lola (newcomer Christa Theret) through her first love, her friendships and her boums, as her mother Anne navigates her own chaotic love life. But we also see how things have changed since the 1980s: Anne is divorced, Lola and her friends casually smoke pot (as does her mom), the relationship between Lola and her parents is more frank, cell phones and computers are the essentials of teenage communication…. Times have changed, but the emotions are the same.

La Gifle (The Slap) Claude Pinoteau, 1974. Comedy/drama.

La Drôlesse (The Hussy) Jacques Doillon, 1979. Comedy/drama.

36 Fillette (Junior Size 36) Catherine Breillat, 1988. Drama/comedy.

La Petite Voleuse (The Little Thief) Claude Miller, 1988. Drama.

La Vie Ne Me Fait Pas Peur (Life Doesn’t Scare Me) Noémie Lvovsky, 1999. Comedy.

Les Filles Ne Savent Pas Nager (Girls Can’t Swim) Anne-Sophie Birot. 2000. Drama.

Ma Vraie Vie à Rouen (My Life on Ice) Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau, 2002. Comedy/drama.

A Ma Soeur! (Fat Girl) Catherine Breillat, 2001. Drama.

Et Toi, T’es sur Qui? (Just About Love?) Lola Doillon, 2007. Comedy.

Naissance des Pieuvres (Water Lilies) Céline Sciamma, 2007. Drama.

Soit Je Meurs, Soit Je Vais Mieux (Dying or Feeling Better) Laurence Ferreira Barbosa, 2008. Drama.

Entre Les Murs (The Class) Laurent Cantet, 2008. Drama.


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Originally published in the May 2009 issue of France Today