The Worst Ones

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Worst Ones
"Better in its subtler moments, when it explores not just the difference between what is being filmed and reality by the fictions the characters are also inventing for themselves, the film is made compelling by its own immaculate casting."

The subject of street-cast children on film has often proved thorny, with films as diverse as Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire and Larry Clarke's Kids stirring up controversy around filmmaking ethics. Here first-time feature directors Romane Gueret and Lise Akoka - who were both casting directors in the past - use a film within a film structure to explore the moral questions thrown up when a filmmaking bandwagon rolls into a less than salubrious suburb of Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France.

There's an apparent documentary element to the film as well, since it seems likely the initial screen tests and casting interviews we see at the start of the film came from actual sessions the directors had with the kids. It's here we meet little Ryan (Timéo Mahault), a pre-teen with plenty of attitude, teenager Lily (Mallory Wanecque) and 17-year-old Jessy (Loich Pech) around whom most of the film's action will revolve.

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Any number of directors will tell you that they look for raw talent when they're working with kids, and you can immediately see that Mahault and Wanecque have that in spades. "Sounds like you're only taking the worst ones," someone observes, raising the issue that will run through the film concerning how much the kids' real life issues are being exploited in the name of art and the degree to which their lives will be impacted by the machinations of movie making.

Rather than have an out and out villain, the in-film director Gabriel - notably Belgian, so already one step removed from the situation he is plunging into - is portrayed with a mix of earnestness and barely detectable desperation by Johan Heldenbergh. Pissing Into The North Wind - surely a bit of an on the nose title in a film that is better when it goes for more subtle satire - is something he evidently considers to be his 'life's work', his seriousness comical in the face of everyone else.

On the set, Ryan is playing a young tearaway with an unhappy homelife, something that isn't a million miles away from the little boy's own experience, as we see him living with his sister, as his mum attempts to regain custody. Lily, who is cast as a pregnant teen, meanwhile, thrills to the opportunity of being 'a star', since the usual attention she gets from the kids in school is of the negative 'slut shaming' variety. "Once you're a slut, you're always a slut," she says, indicating how easily it is for a youngster to become 'typecast' in the eyes of their peers. This film for her is a sort of escape, although as we see her begin to imagine a romance, we can sense her fiction is unlikely to become fact.

As the shoot continues, we feel the shifting dynamics as allegiances begin to be formed on set. Gueret and Akoka aren't out to suggest that filmmaking is all bad for young cast members - after all, to do that would be to shoot their own film in the foot. While the directors are definitely aiming to highlight the dangers, most evident in a scene where Ryan is encouraged to lose his temper for real and get into a raging fight and another in which a love scene between Jessy and Lily is handled in the most amateurish way possible, there's also a sense of the kids getting a sense of camaraderie with one another. The film's broader sideswipes at cinematic poverty porn, like the title of the film within a film, are a bit over the top, although they do make for impressive visuals in a scene in which a load of painted pigeons are released - a minor Cannes trend this year, in that the same type of birds also have a supporting role in The Water.

Better in its subtler moments, when it explores not just the difference between what is being filmed and reality by the fictions the characters are also inventing for themselves, the film is made compelling by its own immaculate casting although, given its subject matter, you have to wonder what happens next for Mahault, Wanecque and Pech now the camera has stopped rolling.

Reviewed on: 24 May 2022
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Film within a film about a group of youngsters who are street cast and how it changes their lives.

Director: Lise Akoka, Romane Gueret

Writer: Lise Akoka, Romane Gueret, Elénore Gurrey

Starring: Johan Heldenbergh, Matthias Jacquin, Loïc Pech, Mallory Wanecques

Year: 2022

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: France

Festivals:

Cannes 2022

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