Against the teenage wasteland

 young-solitude Premieres Solitudes (2018), Claire Simons

By Iván Zgaib

*This article was originally published in the Talent Press and FIPRESCI websites on 21/02/2018 


Claire Simon’s PREMIERES SOLITUDES begins with a sympathetic act: the camera accompanies some lonely teenagers while they walk to school. This caring effort is reminiscent of Jean Rouch’s LA PYRAMIDE HUMAINE as it observes a group of young people bonding in front of the camera. Thus, the documentary finds its greatest strength by creating a space of encounter which might not have been possible otherwise. Even though they go to the same public school, these seven kids only meet because of the film.

By means of a vignette structure, PREMIERES SOLICITUDES is mainly composed of scenes of the protagonists exchanging their experiences as teenagers. Simon uses simple, but precise camerawork that conveys a sense of both loneliness and companionship. This complex approach is accomplished by focusing the camera on the teenagers’ discussions. The overall lack of adults, who only enter the frame a few times, reinforces a feeling of abandonment. Even the school corridors look empty, mostly only occupied by the seven teenagers. But this sorrow mutates when the characters keep learning about one another. The development of a collective bond breaks through the screen and redefines PREMIERES SOLITUDES as the record of an evolving experience: seeing that the characters realize they are not alone, the film depicts their dramas as a shared conflict of their age and generation.

At times, however, the topics of conversation become redundant, and PREMIERE SOLICITUDES tends to portray adolescence as a universal experience. A more layered vision is found when the film manages to include the social and cultural particularities of each protagonist. The stories of an African immigrant and a discussion about money between two other girls suggest, maybe too lightly, that the character’s problems are also marked by class and racial conditions.

In spite of these weak points, PREMIERES SOLITUDES ends in a moving note, as if Claire Simon had succeeded in laying out an emotional landscape of adolescence that is raw without ever feeling exploitative. So the movie’s deepest drive is mainly humanistic: the camera as a facilitator of communication that restores an ethical dimension of cinema. Under Simon’s gaze, people can’t really be alone as long as films keep existing.

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