We Did It On A Song


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

"Working closely with his selected cast, André has allowed these youngsters to express their current fears and anxieties in a distinctive and personalised way."

David André’s We Did It On a Song is a docudrama musical with heart and charm, in which six 17-year-olds head towards that ominous threshold of adulthood as they near their end-of-school exams and the uncertain prospects of Real Life. Familial expectations are exacerbated by the gloomy social forecast: the film is shot in Boulogne-sur-Mer, a French city whose 45,000 inhabitants are currently enduring the disastrous consequences of prolonged deindustrialisation. With an original title Chante Ton Bac d'Abord recalling Maurice Pialat’s casually freeform and similar tonal curio Passe Ton Bac D’abord (1978), We Did It On A Song is a confident and crowd-pleasing boundary-pusher — at least stylistically speaking.

At the moment at which the film snaps into song, with lead character Gäelle beginning to sing on a public bus, it becomes clear that André isn’t too bothered about keeping up appearances with regard to documentary authenticity. Put another way, the comparatively elaborative shot selection and the editorial style during the musical numbers themselves are the stuff of narrative filmmaking. And yet, between what are palpably the products of numerous re-takes and rehearsals, the film retains an undeniably doc-like sensibility. Working closely with his selected cast, André has allowed these youngsters to express their current fears and anxieties in a distinctive and personalised way. The lyrics are the teenagers’ own.

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After her exams, Gäelle wishes to attend art school, much to her father’s alarm. His concerns are, however, purely financial: rather than being tyrannically dismissive, he is largely understanding of his daughter’s ambitions, and his conservatism is painted as the result of his own years of hardship. Gäelle’s friends also come from working-class homes. Relatably ordinary, each has a likeable personality and a healthy relationship with their parent(s). There is no over-dramatised melodrama here.

To a fault, perhaps. But for its musical numbers, the film does little — or isn’t in a position to do more — with its characters, regarding both their individual situations and their collective plight. On the one hand, it is to André’s credit that he has embarked upon a project about as under-represented a part of France as Boulogne-sur-Mer. In addition, the songs add zest and energy. On the other hand, such experimentation brings its own limitations, and the deceptively ambitious aim to keep one foot firmly in the documentary door seemingly precludes the filmmaker from going beyond the immediate situation and making a more damning and concrete assessment of the problems facing the working classes and younger generations of France today. Perhaps it’s something to think about for the sequel — should there be one.

Reviewed on: 24 Mar 2014
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Musical docudrama following six 17-year-olds on the cusp of leaving school.

Director: David André

Writer: David André

Year: 2014

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: France


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