Cannes 2015: Standing Tall Review - A Ballsy Opener

Much better than last year's (although that's not hard).

La Tete Haute C
Wild Bunch

Rating: ˜…˜…˜…★★★

Irrespective of itself, Standing Tall is a pretty important movie. The first film directed by a woman to open the Cannes Film Festival (and the first French-language picture in that position since 1987), it€™s a strike at the heart of modern cinema, reaffirming that the Festival is a truly international affair. The Academy might only be concerned with white Americans (and sometimes Brits), but the rest of the industry doesn€™t seem to want to take that lying down.

While that all sounds great in a bit of publicity, however, it has next to no bearing on what the film is actually like. La Tête Haute is, in this moment, known singularly as the ground-breaking Cannes opener, but in years to come it'll be taken on its own merits. And, from that, more objective angle, it's still an impressive feature, although ultimately lacking the full bite a modern social-realist teenager drama needs to fully stand out.

Following the formative years of Malony, a French "delinquent" who's had a long line of run-ins with the law, specifically a juvenile court Judge, the film sees this relationship spiral into increasingly stern punishments, and with it evermore despicable actions. Why Malony is like this - is it the spectre of his deceased father, bad mothering, a messed up social system, or a bit of all three? - isn't even bothered with, the focus instead on whether he can turn it around.

Rod Paradot, who is (shockingly) a cinematic newcomer, feels totally genuine as Malony, injecting an understated calm that turns the tearaway you'd expect from any old semi-redemptive story - for all the horrific actions brazenly committed, it's hard to not root for him - into a complex, driven young man. The moments of horror go much further and the normal is still pretty messed up, yet he's still got dreams, loves and fears. This is embodied best in-film by his tomboyish romantic interest. Developing feelings for him only after firsthand falling victim to the dark compulsions of his character, she's hardly an audience avatar, but her love never feels out of place as she's in a boat very nearby the viewer.

Make no mistake - this is social realism with emphasis on the realism. Scenes will touch on minor character beats that are, on the face of it, disconnected from the main narrative, yet essential to understanding the people who populate it. While this creates a film with rich texture, it can also mean that the social side feels a bit under-baked; through a plot that seems to showcase the entire French social service structure, no individual issue is given the opportunity to be explored beyond what you bring into the movie yourself. A top-billed Catherine Deneuve as the Judge does some stellar work to redress the balance, but there's no escaping a lack of comment in a movie whose ending clearly intends it to have some.

Very refreshing from a film that takes a position last year inhabited by Grace Of Monaco, for all its contextual thwack Standing Tall is an interesting open to Cannes 2015, but come the end won't be the movie that everyone remembers.


Film Editor (2014-2016). Loves The Usual Suspects. Hates Transformers 2. Everything else lies somewhere in the middle. Once met the Chuckle Brothers.