Honest Depictions of a Troubled Teenager Render ‘Standing Tall’ Worthwhile


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French film Standing Tall is better known by the title La Tête Haute and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015.

By Sydney Rappis, Contributing Writer

Adolescent angst is a transcendent topic. Whether you spent your time dyeing your hair and bobbing your head to Panic! At The Disco, or you chain smoked while listening to Die Ärzte, everyone can relate to the confusion and frustration that is pre-adulthood. Coming of age stories in particular work to examine the different patterns of thought and the effects of childhood events on adult dispositions, exploring how people grow through childhood. French director Emmanuelle Bercot uses this platform to present a gripping character study of a troubled 16-year-old in her film “Standing Tall.”

The protagonist of the film, Malony (Rod Paradot), has faced opposition all his life. The story starts with a toddler-age Malony and his mother in the office of court judge Florence Blaque (Catherine Deneuve). Through disorientingly close shots of hands, toys and faces, Bercot establishes many sources of tension that carry throughout the film. Even at his young age, Malony exhibits disruptive behavior in school, much to the seeming indifference of his mother (Sara Forestier). When she leaves him there to be taken in by the state, it is clear this character has found himself very much a victim of circumstance and will have considerable disadvantages to overcome.

Jumping forward in time to the adolescent Malony recklessly driving a stolen car, the film does a beautiful job of staying away from the overdone trope of a helpless, pure at heart protagonist depraved of goodness because of circumstance. Paradot presents a mercilessly honest performance, rendering Malony as troubled not only by the circumstance that he finds himself in, but by something deeper. Malony is quick-tempered, a bully and sexually violent. As a protagonist, he repels empathy and makes it difficult for the audience to support his cause. Surrounded by an impressively supportive cast, Paradot shines as a powerful new actor able to take on difficult and complex roles. The character constantly oscillates between an uphill path to something better and the seemingly bottomless tumble into destitution.

While the character Bercot transcends barriers, some aspects of the film are lost in translation. A certain level of familiarity with the French foster care system and government workings is assumed, a not unreasonable expectation but one that can nonetheless end up up as a source of confusion for some of the more fast-paced moments. Despite this, the film offers a realistic debate between the influence of circumstance versus innate temperament, and pushes the comfortable assumptions surrounding responsibility and justification. The movie’s soundtrack, mostly comprised of orchestral compositions, offers a tasteful and refreshing complement to the heavy subject material. The film itself has done remarkably well thus far, debuting at Cannes and marking the first time a film directed by a woman was chosen to open the Film Festival.

“Standing Tall” is currently showing at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Email Sydney Rappis at [email protected]