Films that pair sporting competitions with coming out of the closet staple in modern queer cinema. ‘Summer Storm‘ (2004) and ‘Handsome Devil‘ (2016) are two obvious examples of this. In those films, and in so many others, the ending is a sporting achievement which combines the tough nature of competition and the brave decision of the protagonist to reveal their homosexuality in an out and proud celebration. Whilst the positive messages in these narratives should be praised, the tendency toward melodrama and sentimentality is all a bit much.
‘1:54‘ is thoroughly contemporary, and deals with realistic issues high school students experience. The nature of cyber-bullying and online shame runs throughout the narrative. Antoine Olivier Pilon is Tim, a 16-year old surrounded by a competitive high environment where toxic masculinity dominates. Pilon (who you will recognise from the Xavier Dolan film ‘Mommy‘) has a flair for his performance and helps us understand a troubled and conflicted teenage character.
The film is a strong directorial debut from Yan England, whose short film ‘Henry‘ earned him an Oscar nomination. ‘1:54‘ does well on a low budget. Some of the camera work in the middle section of the film shows us the reality for Tim. The revolving handheld camera shows everyone surrounding him and then him alone within the same shot – he is isolated and bothered in the school setting. Elsewhere the camera captures the whole school, in dramatic establishing shots. We then see the intense emotions of the characters through shots that are framed aptly.
There are a couple of missteps in the filmmaking, but nothing too noticeable. The three-act narrative seems ambitious here. In addition, there are many changes of pace, and twists that are exaggerated. Having said that, the rest of the cast do not overstate their characters. The acting is naturalistic for the most part. As the story unfolds we see scenes that are expected in teenage life; house parties, arguments with parents, different groups forming in the school cafeteria. Even the drum and bass soundtrack, albeit a little cheesy, reflects a truth about the lifestyle of these characters.
The themes of ‘1:54‘ revolve around young people – the depiction of masculinity, isolation, homophobia, and other forms of bullying, will hopefully bring about discussion within the groups of young people in the audience of this. If it gets people to talk rather than remain silent, then that is remarkable. A solid effort from a first time director.
‘1:54‘ is one of many titles available as a part of MyFrenchFilmFestival, a celebration of French cinema running 19th January – 19th February 2018.
Zach Roddis | [rating=4]
Drama |France, 2017 | 15 | MyFrenchFilmFestival | Dir. Yan England | Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Sophie Nélisse, Lou-Pascal Tremblay