In May of 2008, a group of high school girls from Gloucester, Massachusetts formed a pact: they would all get pregnant and help each other raise the babies. This strange story of young female friendship—and naiveté—is the subject of the first feature film from sisters Delphine and Muriel Coulin. Instead of the seaside town of Gloucester, 17 filles takes place in a coastal town in Brittany, similar to the one where the directors were raised. It is a gorgeous film with haunting cinematography from Jean-Louis Vialard, but it remains a superficial account of this already well-known story.
The film begins with Camille, played with appropriate measures of angst and earnestness by Louise Grinberg, the popular girl who is surprised to find out she’s pregnant. Shortly after, another student comes forward; she is pregnant too. Gossip and attention follow, and Camille plants the seed among her friends that it would be liberating if they all had children, raised them together communally, took turns babysitting while the others crammed for biology quizzes, and lived happily ever after.
Are we meant to understand the actions of these girls as admirable, albeit incomprehensible? In their own way, the girls are clear about why they want to have babies: simply put, they want to try to live differently. Perhaps as they grow into adults they are beginning to see the world for what it is—difficult, ever changing, and unpredictable. In that world, it would be a small comfort to have something completely within one’s control, something to depend upon you for its very survival.
In many ways, 17 filles echoes themes similar to Sofia Coppolla’s The Virgin Suicides. Both films, in very different ways, follow an elusive group of girls and attempt to unearth their mysteries and their perceptions of the world. However, 17 filles isn’t a nostalgia piece. Nor is it a satire—it doesn’t comment on the decisions of these girls, or wink knowingly at the audience.
Beyond the obvious, 17 filles doesn’t delve much into the reasons why a group of bored and frustrated girls would all want to have babies. We see them plotting their conceptions at a party (one of them has to pay a guy to sleep with her), we watch their stomachs grow, all while they get drunk and stoned and drive to the beach. The parents are virtually absent, as are the fathers of the children. Our attempts to understand these girls ultimately end in failure. 17 filles offers no insight into their lives, it simply relies on an idiosyncratic story and some impressive visuals. The only credibility given to these characters is the knowledge that they are based on real people, which seems like a languorous approach to storytelling.
“17 filles” was screened as part of the Montreal World Film Festival. For more information on the film, see the festival’s website:http://www.ffm-montreal.org/cgi-bin/ffmfilms?Action=fest_detail&num=28770&lng=EN