Friday April 6, 2001
Some of the best recent French films, from Andre Techine's "Wild Reeds" to Erick Zonca's "The Dreamlife of Angels" to the latest example to reach this country, Jean-Pierre Ameris' assured, unblinking "Bad Company," deal with the turmoil of being a young adult and do it in a way that American films are either unwilling or unable to duplicate.
If Hollywood can't resist simply pandering to teenage appetites, American independent features about the same age group are often sullen wallows in self-pity. The French, by contrast, have the knack for seeing these years for what they are, settings with enormous inherent potential for human drama.
Set in an unnamed mid-sized city (Grenoble was the actual location), "Bad Company" ("Mauvaises Frequentations" in the original) fits that description exactly. The based-on-fact story of what passion can do to unformed people, of how horrifyingly far a young girl can be persuaded to go for love, "Bad Company" succeeds by never tipping its hand or losing its equilibrium while its characters often seem to be doing nothing but.
Screenwriter Alain Layrac has exceptional empathy with the age he's writing about, with teenagers' desperate search to be themselves and their at times naive refusal to be constrained by society. There's nothing judgmental about the film's attitude toward any of its characters, and none of the situations, even the melodramatic ones, feel forced or false.
"Bad Company" understands how susceptible and disturbingly fluid a time of life this is for young people. Despite the film's title, with all characters getting to express themselves fully it's not immediately obvious who the bad company is. A lack of broadly drawn, contrived villains makes the outcome of this film more wrenching and even terrifying than it would otherwise be.
At the center of "Bad Company" is Delphine (Maud Forget), the almost-15-year-old daughter of caring, well-off parents who is still susceptible to the habitual disaffection that marks the age. Delphine can't decide what to wear, can't bear to eat breakfast and can't help feeling that she's not plugged-in enough to suit her aims and aspirations.
On the first day back at school, Delphine is irresistibly drawn to Olivia (Lou Doillon), the punked-out, dreadlocked new girl whose snarly self-confidence and "what's it to you?" attitude gives her the appearance of living life more intensely than anyone the timid youngster has ever known.
It takes some doing, but the taller, more worldly, more sexually experienced Olivia comes to feel that Delphine is nothing less than her psychic double. Soon she is initiating Delphine into the thrills of shoplifting and the joys of fooling your parents so you can stay out late and party at the hot club of the moment.
It's at just such a club that Delphine meets the smoldering, Byronic Laurent (Robinson Stevenin), a hot-tempered, disaffected classmate whose twined main passions are Bob Marley and a dreamed-about trip to Kingston, Jamaica, to start life anew. Delphine falls in love with him, and though he would not be any parent's dream, Laurent in his way seems to care for her as well.
Actually, "falls in love" is a mild term for the almost comatose, strung-out-on-hormones state of mind Delphine enters. "Bad Company" is especially successful at re-creating the frenzied intensity of adolescent passions, where heedlessness is a byword and minor situations get quickly elevated to crisis proportions. Slowly, horrifyingly but perfectly believably, Delphine takes a step into that quicksand state and is soon on her way to being perilously over her head.
Aside from keeping the film's tone restrained and dispassionate no matter how frenzied the film's actions become, director Ameris has helped his young actors deliver the kind of outstanding performances--especially from protagonist Forget--that make this story so devastating. Everyone, from her parents to her friends to those in the audience, can see how much of a child Delphine still is in so many ways, but it's part of the sadness this excellent film engenders that there's no way she can see that herself. No way at all.
Bad Company, 2001. Unrated. A Pan-Europeenne Productions, PFP Productions, Les Films Alain Sarde, M6 Films production. Director Jean-Pierre Ameris. Producers Philippe Godeau, Alain Sarde. Screenplay Alain Layrac. Cinematographer Yves Vanderemeeren. Editor Martine Geordano. Music Lene Marlin, Giya Kanchell. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. Maud Forget as Delphine. Lou Doillon as Olivia. Robinson Stevenin as Laurent. Maxime Mansion as Alain. Delphine Rich as Claire. Francois Berleand as Rene.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times