A quality cinematic reminder of the value of welfare systems is beamed down from one of the frothiest places on earth.
Cannes Film Festival organisers like to perpetuate the image of its glitz and glamour by making sure that sparkling A-list actors are decorating the red carpet from the get go. Scheduling the opening film as Standing Tall (French title: La tête haute) by Emmanuelle Bercot – a director that no one had really heard of who cast a newcomer as her lead man – was a curveball. Adding to the novelty, Emmanuelle Bercot is of the female persuasion, making her the second woman in Cannes’ 68 year history to open the festival.
There was no sense in becoming frothy-mouthed with excited at this anomalous choice ahead of checking out the film. But now it has been watched, we can safely say that what it lacks in high-octane cinematic firepower is compensated for in the integrity of its ideas. The weighty social themes will resonate beyond its French judicial setting to UK society where we are still processing what the Conservative election victory will mean for our own welfare system.
Second-guessing whether festival director Thierry Frémaux has a radical agenda in this programming choice is futile. He probably just liked the film and wanted to support an emerging French filmmaker (Bercot is more established as an actress). But as far as audiences are concerned, it is a rare treat to watch a clear-eyed story of a juvenile delinquent and the care system that tries to exert damage control across over a decade of his wayward life.
Rod Paradot, the film’s breakout star, gives an opaque performance as the twitchy, violent teenager, Malony, who would activate in more fallible humans than those presented in the film world the desire to disengage forever. A children’s judge played by the incomparable Catherine Denueve and a counsellor played by Benoît Magimel have compassion built into their life plans enabling them to be consistently supportive. The main value of watching the film is contrasting their patience with the volatile emotions that Malony elicits in us. The lesson is obvious but still worth saying – welfare services change lives that no one else has the skills to intervene in. Who would have expected that message to be beamed down from this heady film bubble on the French Riviera?
Read the LWLies review of Standing Tall here.