Stella

Stella

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Coming-of-age films - particularly those emanating from Hollywood - have a habit of focusing on those in their late teens, coping with the coming of responsibility and, more often than not, sex. But there is arguably a much bigger jump to be made by those just entering their teens, as they make the move from childhood to the nightmare of puberty at the same time as negotiating the social upheaval of switching schools and taking on life lessons.

Such is the case for Stella, a sassy, streetwise but classroom-poor 11-year-old who is heading, for reasons that are never revealed, to a posh senior school where she knows no one. Her home life at the local bar is a melee of people, experiences and pop music, where her mum and dad seem to spend most of their time in a permanent spat with one another but where she is nonetheless a essential component part. Secondary school, then, is secondary, until Stella begins to form a friendship with brainbox Gladys - who despite her studious and rather more conservative, upper middle-class background, is a kindred spirit who starts to broaden Stella's educational horizons.

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Verheyde freely admits that Stella is based largely on her own childhood and perhaps this is why she has been able to conjour up such a fiercely compelling sense of the time period. She evokes a bustling, vibrant picture of 1977 - from the spangly hot pants and rabbit fur favoured by Stella to the bustling kitschness of her family's bar. Her handheld camera thrusts us into the maelstrom - in contrast to the more statically-shot order of Stella's school - quickly establishing a sense of place so vivid and populated by characters so nuanced that we could almost be watching a documentary.

Léora Barbara is perfectly cast in the central role, simultaneously fragile and fearless, while the bubbly seriousness of Mélissa Rodriguez makes her the perfect foil as Gladys. This is not about leaving one world behind in order to move to another but about learning to embrace both, in the enviable way that youngsters can.

Verheyde's third film is not really driven by narrative, but is rather a year-in-the-life snapshot. Events occur, but they are much less important than the emotional journey being made by Stella and the examination of the nature of friendship - which Verheyde reassuringly contends need not be cowed by social class or education. This is about the life-changing little things that happen to us all, which makes it all the more affecting. Stella is, quite simply, stellar.

Reviewed on: 04 Oct 2009
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Stella packshot
Snapshot of a year in the life of an 11-year-old.
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Festivals:

EIFF 2009
Glasgow 2010

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