Bad Company (1999)

“Love can make you do anything.”

The French film Bad Company (AKA Mauvaise Frequentations) opens with scenes of Delphine (Maud Forget) attempting various hairstyles in front of her bedroom mirror. While this scene seems to be a simple segue into the story, it’s far more than that. The scene introduces several ideas: Delphine’s transisition from childhood to adolescence and also more importantly Delphine’s problem with identity.

Timid and shy, Delphine’s sole relationship is with sweet classmate and film buff, Justin (Cyril Cagnat). The two teens regularly go the cinema together, and there’s the feeling that somehow they don’t know how to kick start their friendship into boyfriend-girlfriend mode, and so their relationship remains platonic. Delphine, a diminutive, perfectly featured 14-year-old stands out amongst her classmates. Due to her build and lack of curves, she looks much younger than the other girls. One day, a new girl arrives–Olivia, (Lou Doillon) tall, svelte and decidedly bohemian. Dreadlocked Olivia makes quite an entrance for her first day in school, and Delphine is transfixed by the new girl. The two girls strike up an unlikely relationship and soon become great friends.

Given the title Bad Company, and the fact that 16-year-old Olivia, who lives with her overworked single mother, is allowed a great deal more freedom than the relatively sheltered, middle-class Delphine, it seems just a matter of time before Olivia leads Delphine into trouble. And while that does happen to a degree, this French film veers away from simplicity and cliche and instead makes Delphine her very own worst enemy. Delphine is vulnerable to peer-pressure, but interestedly the pressure comes from Delphine’s pouty, amoral boyfriend, Laurent (Robinson Stevenin), a teen who idolizes Bob Marley and dreams of moving to Jamaica. Ultimately Delphine’s relationship with Olivia turns out to be one of the most solid aspects of her life.

One of the most interesting aspects of this film is its complex characters. Olivia, for example, with her extreme style and flair for self-expression, seems to be all that Delphine isn’t. But as the plot develops, it becomes painfully clear that Olivia’s sense of style mimics her dead sister. Olivia appears to be a hollow character, but as the story continues, this idea is challenged when Olivia’s sense of self-worth and moral limits are set at odds with her devotion to Delphine. While Delphine almost blindly and pathetically sinks into moral degradation, Olivia decides to follow her friend rather than abandon her.

Bad Company is a searing, powerful tale of just how far Delphine is prepared to go to ‘prove’ her love, and the film examines the very serious issues that Delphine faces before she has the mental or moral fibre to understand what she’s doing. Teen films can be so problematic. After all, we have to remain interested in the characters’ dilemmas, and sometimes that’s not easy to achieve. While it’s true that teenagers can make horrible decisions that impact the rest of their lives, at the same time, sometimes, as a viewer, it’s hard for me to care about teen angst. While Bad Company is a film about teenagers that is almost beside the point, and ultimately Delphine finds herself making choices that are not confined to 14-year-olds. The acting in this coming-of-age film is excellent, and the film’s unexpected twists kept me riveted to the end. Given the subject matter, director Jean-Pierre Ameris could so easily have sunk into lurid titillation, but instead the film handles the story with sensitivity and dignity.

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