Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Emmanuelle Bercot's César-winning, nature-nurture coming-of-age drama, STANDING TALL

One of the things TrustMovies likes best about the films of actress/writer/director Emmanuelle Bercot -- Backstage, Student Services, (her episode of) The Players, On My Way and now STANDING TALL -- is how willing Ms Bercot is to simply jump in head first and start swimming until she reaches the other shore. She may not be the most artistic, stylish, realistic or brilliant of filmmakers, but her movies are always worth seeing because she gets the job done. She tackles her subjects honestly, draws excellent performances from her casts, and makes us think hard and consider the many possibilities implicit in the subject matter she chooses to film.

All this is true once again, perhaps even more so, in her latest work, which is all about how a young boy -- we first meet him as an (at least verbally) abused child of around five years old -- grows slowly, very slowly, into a somewhat autonomous young man. Ms Bercot (the filmmaker is shown at left) begins her movie with only dialog heard. When we see visuals, the camera stays out of facial range, as though we should not see the identity of these people because some their behavior regarding a child is so shocking. What we finally view is a little boy who's simply quiet or cowed into submission by a mother accusing him of being a full-out monster.

As with all French films about the law, crime and social services, the job of the "judge" will seem very different from what we have here in the USA. In that initial scene, as identity become clear, we see that the judge is played by French icon Catherine Deneuve, above, who understands her role here as someone who is both the law-giver and final decision-maker but who also acts as a kind of heavy-duty social worker, trying to help her charge into responsible adulthood.

This has long struck me as an interesting combination, one that might be healthily used here in the America, too. In any case, the next time we see the child, Malony -- played with flaring anger, sadness, dark humor and great neediness by newcomer (and César award-winner for this role), Rod Paradot  -- so prone to explosion and irresponsibility seems Malony that we, like many of the others around him, are often ready to give up.

Ms Deneuve's judge does not, nor do a few of her helpers, including another César-winner for his role, Benoît Magimel (above). Against these two are set Paradot's mom, a long-time loser who has never taken the least responsibility for her own life or actions (played with proper ferocity by Sara Forestier, below). Of course the child wants his mother, rather than a foster home, so back and forth we (and the film) swing, as Malony goes from home to a kind of low-key reform school, to home again, prison, and so forth.

The journey is alternately hopeful and grueling, but it is never boring or unbelievable. What we finally achieve is an understanding of how incredibly difficult it is to nurture a child grow into an autonomous man without help from his immediate family. No matter how much the state may try -- and the workers we see here really do -- to call their job an uphill battle is putting it mildly.

While the ending is what one might call feel-good, Ms Bercot is too smart for merely that. We've seen so much slippage along the way that we know there will probably be more to come. And because the film takes in our current and very dismal economic times, this just adds to the problematic nature of the whole experience. Still, as they say: You gotta have hope.

From Cohen Media Group, in French with English subtitles, and running 119 minutes, Standing Tall opens this Friday in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal. For other currently scheduled playdates, simply click here.

No comments: