Standing Tall


Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

Standing Tall (La Tête Haute)
"With heart-rending emotion and considerable physical punch Emmanuelle Bercot immerses us in French young offenders’ procedures." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Although often criticised, sometimes the judicial system can work for those caught up in the labyrinth of correction centres, social workers, and legal machinations. With heart-rending emotion and considerable physical punch Emmanuelle Bercot, in the opening film of the Cannes Film Festival, immerses us in French young offenders’ procedures and the way they deal with the flotsam and jetsam appearing before them.

This may not sound particularly promising as a dramatic premise but after ten minutes Bercot ensnares us in the fate of the tightly coiled young protagonist who is about to have a ten-year journey to some kind of redemption and rehabilitation under the watchful gaze of Catherine Deneuve as the judge with retirement on the horizon.

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With echoes at times of François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows but for our times, the performance of Rod Pardot, the first-time actor playing the teenage outsider Malony exerts exceptional power. He’s first seen at the age of six when he is taken into care after his single mother (played by Sara Forestier) gives up on him. He is in and out of the court system thereafter until he is sent to one particular institution where he meets a girl (Diane Rouxel) destined to change his life. Love can often prove trigger for troubled youngsters finally to pull themselves through.

Bercot shoots in a matter-of-fact style that avoids histrionics in favour of an almost documentary style approach. Enshrined in the French constitution is the assertion that “all children have a right to an education. It should be supervised by the family and if the family is deficient, then it is society’s responsibility to step in”.

What impresses is the dedication and patience of all those involved - including Benoît Magimel as a counsellor who comes from a tough background himself and strikes up a volatile rapport with Malony.

In a country that has suffered a difficult start to its year with the Charlie Hebdo attacks and legions of easily radicalised youths in a simmering melting pot, the choice of Bercot’s film to open such a high profile Festival displays a courageous and reflective change of tone.

Reviewed on: 13 May 2015
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The story of a young delinquent and the woman who sets out to try to change his destiny.

Director: Emmanuelle Bercot

Writer: Emmanuelle Bercot, Marcia Romano

Starring: Rod Paradot, Catherine Deneuve, Sara Forestier

Year: 2015

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: France

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