Directed by Emmanuelle Bercot
The film tells the story of Malony and his education as he grows from a six-year-old into an 18-year-old. A minors’ judge and a caseworker work tirelessly to try to save the young offender.
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★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
When I was sixteen years old, my parents were forced to withdraw me from public school and sent me to wilderness program in the White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire. They were hoping that a therapeutic environment would do me some good in terms of allowing time for self-reflection on the mistakes and hardships that I had been through, and that I had put them through, over the previous few years. During my adolescence, I had what were repeatedly and broadly described to me as “behavioral problems” (mainly stemming from issues of substance abuse), and the consequent time that I spent in behavioral rehabilitation facilities was, not surprisingly, a defining era of my life.
As I grew older though, and gradually transitioned back into the real world, I began to look back on this era and wonder just how unique of a time it was, or whether there are countless other teenagers that are experiencing similar struggles all over the world. At the very least, these sort of issues seem to be vastly underrepresented in the media, but it seems like that has begun to change over the past couple years of the Cannes International Film Festival. Seemingly drawing influence from Xavier Dolan’s Jury Prize-winning Mommy (but certainly not enough to be deemed overly derivative), Emmanuelle Bercot’s La tête haute (Standing Tall), the opener of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, is a socially relevant drama driven by a powerhouse performance from the nineteen-year-old Rod Paradot.
The story tracks the central character of Malony from early childhood to young adulthood and, amongst other issues, portrays his battle with self-loathing, theft and violence. As a result of these problems, he is thrust into a world of adolescent treatment facilities and falls victim to the revolving door effect; each time he seems to be making progress, the system increases his freedoms, but eventually he always falls back into the same pattern of misbehavior and hostility. Catherine Deneuve plays the judge in charge of Malony’s case and does a fine job with her role as the maternally supportive replacement for the boy’s irresponsible and drug addicted mother, though her performance is undoubtedly overshadowed by the explosive Paradot.
Much like Dolan’s film, one of the strongest characteristics of La tête haute is its bipolarity of tone. Some may find the sporadic jumps from quiet to impassioned rather jarring, but anyone who has spent time around troubled teens knows how quickly a situation can shift from calm to hostile. Still, it only works so well here because Paradot executes these outbursts with a nuanced understanding of the adolescent mind and what makes teenagers tick. This is partially stemming, of course, from the fact that Paradot only just grew out of his adolescent years.
La tête haute is also pleasing on an aesthetic level, especially with regard to its juxtaposition of intense scenes of conflict with a peaceful classical-ambient soundtrack. One particular scene’s use of Arvo Pärt’s exceptionally beautiful Spiegel im Spiegel stands out in my memory. A chief way in which Bercot‘s film differs from Dolan’s though, and solidifies itself as a beast of its own, is in its temporal scope. La tête haute spans a period of about a dozen years, tracking Malony from the very first time his mother gives up custody to the court, all the way up until what the audience hopes will be his permanent entrance into a more responsible lifestyle. This way, Bercot is able to craft a believable arc within her protagonist, allowing for a gradual character progression rather than one that is abrupt and difficult to reckon with.
The heavy use of vulgar language and multiple scenes of children in perilous situations might distance some viewers, but it adds a genuine authenticity to the drama. Those who are willing to look beneath some of the more unpleasant character flaws and appreciate the film for its slice-of-life portrayal of an underrepresented social issue will be met with a bittersweet surprise.
★★★★ review by Chris Hormann on Letterboxd
We see so many films about coming of age which have a rose-tinted filter - yes not everyone has a tough childhood but the other side of the tracks is so little seen. Not so here as we get an almost vérité take on a young delinquent, having had a harsh upbringing as he makes his way through the youth court system.
Rod Paradot is an astounding find as the young man Malony, a ball of rage and un-tethered emotion - used to being let down by his family, his case workers and the system, he rebels every chance he gets. Paradot performs this young man with a rawness that belies his lack of acting experience. Even better, he holds his own against the screen legend that is Catherine Deneuve, with whom he shares several scenes. Deneuve plays the youth court judge who sees him over the years and this is a quite different role for her, best described as determined grace, not wanting to give up on Malony, despite him losing his way.
There's an inevitable trajectory to Malony's fate but also enough hope and love to give optimism that not every person's fate is sealed from a start in life on the wrong side of the tracks.
★★★★½ review by gbxavier on Letterboxd
Uau! Sabe, hoje eu poderia falar desse filme. Mas não só... Queria falar do Festival Varilux, que eu pouco visito (quase nunca...nunca...só duas vezes!), mas sempre tenho boas experiências. Nunca esqueço a sessão "Ferrugem e Osso".
E esse filme? Sequer sabia sobre o que era. E nem me venha falar de Cannes. 2015. Sei muito pouco sobre. Mas sei que fiquei em choque com coisas boas: essa ideia de humanizar o serviço judiciário (até porque fica claro que ali é uma exceção), aquela atuação arrebatadora daquele pivete - Malony -, sua família, a sua 'namorada' que é quase um reflexo dele mesmo (um refúgio?!), a trilha do filme, a juíza...
★★★½ review by Patrick Mulcahy on Letterboxd
Watching Rod Paradot in La Tete Haute you'll be reminded of Jack O'Connell in Starred Up. Cocksure, violent, full of attitude, suppressing his deep yearnings, Paradot's Malony grows up on screen in front of our eyes - the character ages from 15 to 17 - as he moves from stealing cars to having something to care about. In the mean time he is in and out of supervised detention.
Malony tests your patience - actress-turned-director Emmanuelle Bercot doesn't present him as a point of identification and he is offset by the warm and sympathetic presence of Catherine Deneuve as Judge Florence Blaque. Credit to the moviemakers for refusing to compromise. Sara Forestier gives a good supporting performance as a young mother unable to cope and at one point shirking responsibility as she has just painted her nails. Impressive but by no means a joy.
★★★★ review by otxjunior on Letterboxd
Maybe I'm reading (listening) too much into it, but wasn't this Schubert piano piece in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon too? And wasn't he, Kubrick, who used to say that he's interested in the brutal and violent nature of the man because that is the true picture of him? hmm...
You know what is also brutal? The performance of this talented young man.
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