EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a capsule review. The full review will be released once the film hits theatres.
Opening the Cannes film festival is no easy task. Whichever movie kicks off the prestigious event sets the tone for the entire festival, and over the years, the openers have ranged from terrible to fantastic. Last year, Olivier Dahan’s Grace of Monaco had the honor, and to say that it was a disaster would be an understatement. This year, festival directors Thierry Fremaux and Pierre Lescure decided to go for a safer choice, with Emmanuelle Bercot’s Standing Tall (La Tete Haute).
The legendary Catherine Deneuve stars as a youth judge who meets her biggest challenge when a young mother (Sara Forestier) abandons her six-year-old son Malony (Rod Paradot) in the judge’s office. The film then jumps ahead ten years to show a now sixteen-year-old Malony as a troubled boy whose malicious acts continually land him in the presence of the judge. After being placed in a juvenile rehabilitation center, Malony is forced to confront his behavior and must decide if he truly wants to make something out of his life.
Standing Tall is rather uneven when it comes to plot, as certain things just don’t add up. For instance, Malony is severely reprimanded when he steals a car, yet gets off scott free when he kicks a pregnant woman in the stomach. It seems as if Bercot and co-writer Marcia Romano are not exactly sure how they want to portray their protagonist. Malony has to do enough damage to find him in front of the judge, yet they must still make the character somewhat likeable, which is where the film runs into its biggest issue. Between Malony’s ear-piercing screams and his constant disregard of all positive assistance, it is often quite hard to side with his character and thus, it’s hard to feel too invested in his arc.
Not helping matters is the fact that Bercot’s visual style is rather uninspired. The film is largely made up of static medium shots with visual flair used sparingly. It’s only when Bercot occasionally moves her camera that any sense of directorial style is revealed. Those moments where the film breaks free of its static shots, allowing the camera to glide across a room, suggest that Bercot has the skills of a talented director but just isn’t confident enough to explore them fully.
Thankfully, the performances mostly make up for the poor script and bland direction. In particular, Rod Paradot is a real standout. While his character may be unlikeable and unsympathetic, the actor gives a tour-de-force performance and creates some true magic in his scenes with Deneuve. Over her long career, the actress has mastered the art of subtly, a skill which is lost in newbie Paradot. Yet, when the two work along side each other, a harmony is created. Think of it as the perfect balance between old and new.
While Standing Tall certainly has its moments, and does show promise for both director Emmanuelle Bercot and star Rod Paradot, it is ultimately bogged down by a lackluster screenplay.
A few excellent performances should hold your interest, but Emmanuelle Bercot’s Standing Tall is still a mostly mediocre film.