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Originally published Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 3:02 PM

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'17 Girls': Best friends — and mothers — forever

A movie review of "17 Girls," Delphine Coulin and Muriel Coulin's promising, evenhanded tale about high-school girls who rebel by becoming pregnant and forming a utopian clique.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'17 Girls,' with Louise Grinberg, Roxane Duran, Florence Thomassin. Written and directed by Delphine Coulin and Muriel Coulin. 86 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In French, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema at the Uptown.

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"17 Girls" is based on a series of bizarre events that took place in 2008 in Gloucester, Mass., but the movie is the work of French filmmakers who happen to be sisters.

They've relocated the story to Lorient, a blue-collar seaside town in Brittany, and they've populated it with French high-school students who organize a very special clique. When Camille (the well-cast Louise Grinberg from "The Class"), the born leader of her group, unintentionally becomes pregnant, her pals decide to become teenage mothers as well.

In the process, they establish a dreamy communelike rebellion against parents and other adults; they generate unrealistic threats about leaving home and cutting family ties. In some ways it's like any other attempt at rejecting the adult world and creating a teen utopia, and it can be just as hurtful.

As Camille's mother (Florence Thomassin) points out, she's put in "18 years of sacrifice" to raise one child, and she's sacrificed in other ways to raise another. Camille's brother has been sent to Afghanistan, though he seems less than enthusiastic about the assignment.

The writer-directors, Delphine Coulin and Muriel Coulin, take an evenhanded approach to everything, sympathizing with the separate dilemmas of the young soldier, who seems trapped by circumstances, and school officials who lose control of the girls' situation.

The filmmakers are better at defining cliques than they are at creating fantasy, and they sometimes falter when the script wanders. The movie needs a tighter grip, yet the narrative detours, including a beach party and one especially liberating confrontation, can be surprisingly joyous.

John Hartl:

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