Emmanuelle Bercot’s film, which opened the festival, may not be great but is certainly a strong social drama with a big heart and an extraordinary young protagonist. Oh, and Catherine Deneuve.
The actor and director Emmanuelle Bercot keeps on Catherine Deneuve from her previous film “On My Way” (“Elle s’en Va”), but this time positions her in the background, in the role of a magistrate, who at the beginning of the film is left with a six-year old boy whose young and indifferent mother abandons him in Deneuve’s office.
Little Malony spends time in a home for abandoned children, in the hands of advisors and social workers, in and out of juvenile institutions for ten years and the film follows him on a seemingly unavoidable path, which most possibly will end up in a criminal life, in and out of prison.
Apart from his mother, whose coming and goings in Malony’s life are almost never up to any good, the only other constant in this path is his relationship with Judge Florence, a woman who really tries to make a difference and a social Officer, Yann, who sees in the young boy something of his own course in life which, one can easily realise, used to have much in common with Malony’s.
The film is set up in scenes taking place either in the judge’s office, or the courtroom, or in juvenile institutions and reformatories where the young protagonist is spending time; always oriented towards the doomed course that everyone – viewers included- would wish to be avoided.
Bercot maintains a low key approach most of the times, going after the emotion but not for the easy drama, without avoiding, however, some excesses, such as the bad teeth of Sara Forestier, in the role of the lost mother, which only work as an easy trick and were probably unnecessary.
Other than that though, the film maintains a rather measured and impartial attitude towards its heroes, whatever their provenance is. It does not put a halo around their heads but instead provides us with a ‘fair’ portrait of people and their conditions. There is a feeling reminiscent of the Dardenne brothers’s cinema -in their more recent phase where a big star is more than welcome in their world – even if “Standing Tall” rarely comes near the power their movies have.
Even so, it is undeniable that “Standing Tall” wins you over – even if you were initially slightly skeptical – as the film’s heart is at the right place, its actors more than able to convince you (the young Rod Paradot and Catherine Deneuve are excellent) and given that the way it approaches the story, the issue at hand,and the people, is honest and correct.