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CANNES — French cartoonist Riad Sattouf moves from comic books to real people with his first feature film, “Les Beaux Gosses,” which screens Sunday in the Directors’ Fortnight.
The tale — which begins with an awkward makeout session between two pimply faced adolescents, then moves on to masturbation, prepubescent fantasy and bloody noses — is a departure from the sidebar’s usual fare but to be expected from Sattouf. The cartoonist has gathered a cult following in France for his offbeat, realistic and humorous portraits of teen angst in “La vie secrete des jeunes” (The Secret Life of Young People), a weekly cartoon series in the left-wing satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo (Charlie Weekly). His first film explores adolescent love and angst.
“I think that I was really affected by my own adolescence,” Sattouf said. “I like to write about other people’s teen years now that I’m done with my own. I try to find meaning in the simplest of anecdotes.”
Born in Paris, Sattouf spent the first 10 years of his life in the Middle East. Since 2000, he’s been a cartoonist in Paris.
“I was afraid of not having as much freedom as I do when I write my comics,” Sattouf said of his career shift. “In the end, it turned out that I was just as free making the film.”
Produced by Anne-Dominique Toussaint with Pathe and Orange production arm Studio 37, “Les Beaux Gosses” follows a 14-year-old boy named Herve as he struggles to fit in among his peers during his awkward adolescence.
“I didn’t want to make a film about young people today,” Sattouf said. “I didn’t want to make a generational film. I wanted to talk about the emotions of the characters.”
Sattouf also emphasized that the story isn’t completely autobiographical, but more based on friends he grew up with. “My own adolescence wasn’t as interesting as my main characters. I definitely had a lot less going on than my hero.”
“Les Beaux Gosses” follows a multiethnic group of middle class students in Rennes, where Sattouf himself grew up, and is a far cry from simply a French version of “Gossip Girl” juxtaposed against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower.
“They’re all a bit ugly, I chose them specifically for that reason,” Sattouf said of his teenage main characters, adding, “They’d probably never have starred in a movie if I hadn’t asked them, so they had no egos whatsoever. They did everything I asked of them.”
The seething commentary on contemporary teenage life also features a few well-known actors, rounding out the cast with high-profile actresses Emmanuelle Devos, Noemie Lvovsky and Irene Jacob.
“At first, I didn’t want to hire well-known actors because I was afraid of their egos,” Sattouf said. “But then I thought — here’s my chance, I might never have the opportunity to make another film. So I called my favorite actresses and they all accepted.”
Paris-based sales company Other Angle Pictures will handle international sales of the film with Studio 37. Pathe will release the film in France on June 17.
So will Sattouf be nervous in his first visit to the Festival de Cannes? “I’m at ease with my film. I have no regrets,” he said.
In fact, Sattouf has dreamed of being part of the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar since he was a teenager. “When I was younger, I didn’t really speak English,” he said. “I thought that Directors’ Fortnight meant ‘the night of strong directors, since ‘fort’ in French means strong. It became a personal fantasy after that. I dreamed of one day being part of this ‘night of strong directors.’ “
Will Cannes audiences be shocked by his unglamorous portrayal of teenage life? Said Sattouf: “Even Jessica Alba probably had acne once.”
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