“Standing Tall” (“La Tete Haute”) was the best of the 13 films I saw in this year’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York City. Before the film was shown, Emmanuelle Bercot, the film’s director and co-writer said that “very little is known of the justice court for children”.
She said that she wanted bring a sense of hope and to instill compassion toward those who fall into a delinquent life through a lack of education. Bercot also wanted pay tribute to people in the system trying to help juveniles break out of the spiral of delinquency.
“Standing Tall” is a compelling, well-written film with distinctive characterizations from a strong ensemble.
The film follows Malony, a young delinquent, for 10 years from age 6. During a meeting with a children’s magistrate (Catherine Deneuve), his messed-up, unstable mother (extremely well-played by Sara Forestier) calls Malony, who has missed 2 months of school, “rotten” and more than she can handle. Also with a crying baby, she leaves Malony in the judge’s office. Malony’s time in courts and detention centers begins.
Bercot who gave Catherine Deneuve one of her best recent parts in “On My Way” (2014) has written another good part for her. Deneuve impresses yet again as the firm but concerned judge wanting to do the best for Malony throughout the years.
Rod Paradot who portrays Malony from ages 13 -17 is an amazing discovery. He gives a vivid performance. The film has a gripping tension as Malony explodes in volcanic rage in frustration from being part of the juvenile justice system and losing his freedom. After a long search Paradot, who lives in the projects, was found in a vocational school, training for his certificate in carpentry. He was awarded the Cesar, the French Oscar, for Most Promising Actor.
Benoit Magimel received the Cesar for Best Supporting Actor for his intense performance as a caseworker who had a troubled childhood and remains determined to help Malony break his cycle of incarceration.
Malony, who has periodic reunions with his mother and younger brother, is often his own worst enemy as his fights those trying change his life. Malony and the justice system are treated realistically, without easy answers.