Film is quintessentially French in its look at the awakening outlooks and sex imbroglios of a 14-year-old boy who likes to pass himself off as 15. Louis Malle lavishes insight, perhaps personal reminiscences, and unflagging rightness in atmosphere, character and observation to make this a richly comic, touching and incisive portrait of a young man in the French provincial city of Dijon in 1954.
A young Italian mother (Lea Massari) with a vital, free spirit, a conventional gynecologist father (Daniel Gelin) with hide-bound outlooks, if flirting with more liberal outlooks, and two older brothers whose revolt is in horseplay and brash jokes surround the teenage hero, Laurent (Benoit Ferreux).
Suffering from a heart murmur, he is sent to a spa with his young mother who, he knows, has a young lover. This leads eventually to a sort of love bout with his mother which is to be a secret between them and never repeated.
Ferreux has the vulnerability, warmth and witty outlook that give his young protagonist a human and recognizable quality. His mother is excellently drawn by Massari, whose need for freedom will not allow her to give way to a demanding suitor. All others are excellent. In the background is the Indochina War and loss of the French colonies, and some youthful if unformed political revolt.