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Film review: Standing Tall – delinquent drama shines light on French welfare policies

Despite the lack of subtlety, there’s much to admire in a movie that offers no easy solutions. Catherine Deneuve stars but it’s a newcomer you’ll be drawn to

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 November, 2015, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 November, 2015, 12:01pm

Actress-director Emmanuelle Bercot returns behind the camera for her fourth feature with this earnest study of the juvenile justice system. The big name on the credits is Catherine Deneuve, but it’s newcomer Rod Paradot that will grab your attention.

He plays Malony, a delinquent teen with a young mother (Sara Forestier) barely any better behaved. Deneuve is cast as Florence Blaque, the local magistrate assigned to Malony’s case. Kindly but stern, she takes a special interest in this volatile adolescent.

Reminiscent of a young Vincent Cassel in 1995’s touchstone La Haine, from the moment we see him joy-riding in a stolen car, Paradot’s short-fuse performance is thrilling. The film, co-written by Bercot and Marcia Romano, never offers any easy solutions.

Malony is rendered as real as they come: troubled, torn but tender too, whether he’s haranguing Benoit Magimel’s rough-hewn social worker or struggling with feelings for Tess (Diane Rouxel), a young girl he meets when sent to a rural rehabilitation facility.

Bercot evidently understands the French welfare system (her uncle reputedly worked with troubled youths) and, if anything, the filmplays like a validation for its policies that set to look after even the most disadvantaged of individuals, even when they throw it all back in your face.

Malony gets multiple chances at redemption (perhaps too many) but, despite his bad behaviour, he’s rarely putting others in harm’s way. Shot with grit and determination, Standing Tall may lack the subtlety of, say, a film by the Dardenne brothers, but there’s still much to admire here.

Standing Tall opens on November 19