Arts Review, Music

Standing Tall (La Tete haute)

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Standing Tall (La Tete haute)

Emmanuelle Bercot, dir. & co-script w/Marcia Romano

Starring: Catherine Deneuve (Judge Blaque), Rod Paradot (Malony), Benoit Magimel (Yann), Sara Forestier (Severine), Diane Rouxel (Tess), Yannick Courbe (Tonio)

The opening night film at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Standing Tall is a tough little drama about Malony, an adolescent with anger issues who can’t stay on the right side of the law. The only hint of glamour is in the casting of Catherine Deneuve as the provincial youth court judge, whose decisions affect Malony’s life profoundly throughout the film.

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While this might seem surprising considering that Cannes is a famously fashionable festival, the fact is that their juries have tended to honour the hoi polloi, who never are actually allowed to attend the prestigious screenings. Ken Loach, the nitty-gritty British socialist has won the Palme d’Or twice and been nominated an incredible ten other times. The acclaimed Dardenne brothers, also known for their tough portrayals of the working class in their native Belgium have also garnered two Palme d’Or as well as a Grand Prix (second best) for a third film.

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Standing Tall is very much in the tradition of the Dardennes. The film is set in and around Dunkirk—hardly Paris—and Malony’s mother is a pot-head who can’t hold down a job and, despite being attractive, isn’t capable of keeping her boyfriends happy. Malony gets his kicks robbing cars and skipping school until Deneuve’s Judge Blaque sends him to juvenile camp in the country where he begins to get it together. The kid has immense anger issues, which keep on cropping up despite the encouragement of his counselor Yann and the passionate aid of a girlfriend, Tess, who is the daughter of his remedial reading coach.

The film feels repetitive as Malony blows chance after chance only to be rewarded by more support from Deneuve’s Blaque and Benoit Magimel’s Yann (who bears a striking resemblance to the young Sean Penn).

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Director Emmanuelle Bercot was inspired to make the film after hearing tales from her uncle, who worked with wayward juveniles for years. There is no mistaking her sincerity, which permeates the film. Bercot, an actress herself, drew out impressive performances from first time actor Rod Paradot, who won the Cesar (the French Oscar) as “most promising” thespian and Magimel, who garnered the award as best supporting actor.

Standing Tall is a film filled with good intentions. Will that be enough to make it an art house hit? I think not: in a time of explosive violence and racism, the struggles of a person like Malony is unlikely to compel an audience to pay for the privilege of watching him take baby steps towards maturity. But if you happen to see it next year on TV, you’ll likely be surprised at this humble little entry that somehow ended up opening the most talked-about film festival in the world.

Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus

Tune in to hear Marc Glassman’s Art Reviews
Friday’s at 9:07am on Good Day GTA

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