Premières Solitudes is a tender ensemble documentary that strives to and succeeds in capturing the raw and emotionally mature troubles and worries of contemporary suburban-Paris high schoolers - and is so far the best film I’ve seen at this year’s Berlinale.
Made up mostly of dialogue scenes between the young people, the film opens with a moment in which one of the students, a French girl of Cambodian descent, speaks to the school nurse about a stomach ache she’s experiencing that has caused her to skip class. The conversation is contrived and awkward and the nurse is unintentionally patronising - a mode of conversation in which one of the speakers is in a position of power, totally in contrast to what soon unfolds.
The teenagers, placed together by French filmmaker Claire Simon and given themes to talk about, act as sounding boards for each other, void of judgment of the other and beautifully open in exploring each others’ past traumas, delicate family issues and thoughts of love. They address questions from each other about having children, about falling in and out of love, about their absent parents and about what they’re going to do with their lives. And while the scenarios may be literally contrived, (as in the kids are placed next to each other by the director), the sentiment and the voices of the characters are far from false, and create an environment in which they can break through any pretences to find something real and similar in their struggles.
Taking place almost entirely in the high school at which the students roam, Premières Solitudes is one of the most honest pieces of filmmaking I’ve seen in a long time and one that doesn’t attempt to make any statements or force a thesis. Simon simply captures her subjects through suggestion and gives a space for the teenagers to open up with each other and discuss the immediate and existential problems with which they’re faced.
In a contemporary culture that breeds progressively isolated and somewhat suspicious individualist consumers, Premières Solitudes is a much needed film that proves how invaluable face to face communication and solidarity with our peers remains.
— George Louis Bartlett