Standing Tall: "Take the hands that we're stretching out to you!"
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2015: Emmanuelle Bercot opens the 68th Cannes Film Festival with a highly dynamic and moving film on society featuring remarkable performances
Youth and delinquency are often used like poison honey by the media, spread over exaggerated controversies and placed at the root of all problems and the heart of the solutions, shock treatments and bittersweet concoctions. By tackling this societal issue in Standing Tall [+see also:
interview: Emmanuelle Bercot
film profile], the opening film being shown out of competition at the 68th Cannes Film Festival, French filmmaker Emmanuelle Bercot leaves herself open to being accused of over-simplifying things and being melodramatic. Nonetheless, with great agility and skill, precision and energy, the filmmaker glides over all obstacles, propelled by the first-class performances of her actors, including the explosive revelation that is Rod Paradot, superbly supported by Catherine Deneuve and Benoît Magimel in particular.
"Since he learned to walk he’s been a trouble maker. I think I’ve made a monster". In the office of the juvenile court judge (Deneuve), a mother (Sara Forestier) talks about her fifteen-year-old son who snickers to himself by her side, having stolen a car and gone joyriding around town (in Dunkirk in the north of France) to the sound of rap song Assassin de la police. It’s not the first time the three have met; the prologue of the film shows the judge, ten years previously, ruling that the boy should be taken away from his inconsistent mother. And time has solved nothing: Malony (Paradot) has become extremely touchy, a defiant teenager under extreme stress who is prone to impulsive violence, way behind at school, rebels against all rules and authority, and is totally blind to the consequences of his actions. But soon he’ll be turning 16, and if he keeps it up he’ll end up in prison. Placed under the supervision of the court and assigned to Yann, his new caseworker (Magimel), he embarks on six months at a juvenile educational centre in the countryside. And so begins an uphill struggle ("stop putting me in strange places that drive me crazy", "there’s nothing I can be held accountable for", "I don’t talk to weaklings") to overcome the surrounding chaos, born from a lack of emotion and the power of the feeling of certain failure that have shaped his personality. It is a journey played out on the edge, interwoven with slips, escapes, accidents, deception (“you and State Education, it’s not exactly been a match made in heaven”), of face-to-face conflict with a benevolent yet nonetheless strict judge ("you’ve been given a lot, but you haven’t given us much back", "we can only lay the tracks, we can’t push the locomotive into place"), with fragile bonds formed with a young girl (Diane Rouxel) and Yann... as chasing away the ghosts of the past and learning to love and be loved turns out to be far from easy.
With Standing Tall, Emmanuelle Bercot manages to strike a balance between a piece that brings us close to reality (painting the portrait of an underprivileged youth of today and the daily “heroics” of judges and caseworkers) whilst having an exciting cinematographic intensity (with a powerful rhythm and a very effective storyline put together by the director and Marcia Romano), notably playing on the contrast between the harsh, serious subject matter and the bright exterior shots (with the highly talented Guillaume Schiffman in charge of photography). With the exception of a few tricks (an ever-so-slightly "conveniently" accelerated storyline), the film wholeheartedly and successfully lives up to its commitment to portray the world of youth delinquency without painting an overly bleak picture, instead trying to find hope for the future. A quest for optimism which is also that of a director confirming her blossoming talent, and of a Cannes Film Festival which has been bold enough to entrust its opening (which is usually a more glamorous affair) to a piece that flies the flag for social justice.
(Translated from French)