Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 23, 2016 7:02 pm 
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Schoolboy politics and mad laughter

In his first feature Le Nouveau (The New Kid), rather than turning his young cast into actors (though some of them are), Rudi Rosenberg captures lightening in a bottle. He fills the screen with the "fou rire," the laughing fits when kids get the giggles and just can't stop. You can't fake that. These kids, though they may have been selected with camera and screen in mind, are still just kids. And that they still seem just kids at the film's end is Rosenberg's little triumph.

Fourteen-year-old Benoît (Réphaël Ghrenassia) arrives at a strange school when his family comes to Paris for his father's work. He's shy, and making friends doesn't come easy. Besides that, the ruling clique's default mode is exclusion of those outside the charmed circle. They use all sorts of cruel mockery and exclusion to keep Benoît from fitting in. His gangly loser uncle Greg (Max Boubil), who's living on the family couch and has a dj background, has a wonderfully dumb, inappropriate idea: give a loud dance party while the parents are away with alcohol and invite the whole class.

Only three classmates turn up, and they're the core freaks and geeks crew Benoît has connected with. They're Aglaé (Géraldine Martineau, who is an actress, and a highly accomplished one), a disabled girl; the nerdy, bespectacled, brace-wearing Constantin (Guillaume Cloud-Roussel), whose self-important obsession is the choir; the chubby, slightly weird Joshua (Joshua Raccah). They remain Benoît's bande à part against the clique around Charles (Eythan Chiche), the A-list kid who travels around protected by admirers and like-minded brats and gets elected class rep, with far more votes than the ambitious but doomed Constantin.

Actually Réphaël Ghrenassia, who plays Benoît, is a stunner and charmer, and the nerdiness and weirdness of his posse is largely put on for the movie. And that's fine. It shows how arbitrary the stratification and exclusions of school are. Early on, Benoît forms an alliance with a Swedish girl, also new, the tall, pretty Johanna (Johanna Lindstedt), whose French is patchy. This is where Benoît gets his heart broken, because Johanna's outsider intimacy quickly fades when other boys show an interest, and while French for "fond" and "like" and "love" get a bit confused for her, along with the gender of copain-copine (boyfriend-girlfriend), "just friends" is all she wants with him.

When Benoît gets admitted to a party of A-listers and Joshua's exclusion leads to several humiliating faux pas on Joshua's part, Benoît shows himself Joshua's true bro: the delicate line between gaining status and remaining faithful to one's real friends is one of many points where this little film achieves perfect pitch and delivers a positive message without being the least bit preachy or casting too many aspersions on the bad, mischievous boys who provide the core energy to any school. Likewise some really gross things get said, but without any grossierté.

The New Kid/Le Nouveau, 81 mins., debuted and upon its 23 Dec. 2015 theatrical release was quite well liked by French critics (AlloCiné press 3.8/20), with even the stern Cahiers du Cinéma (Arlel Schwwizer) calling it a "pleasant surprise" making fine use of its non-actors; thoughLes Inrocks felt it relied a little too much on clichés about adolescent behavior. This seems unfair: they're basics, not clichés. The New Kid does't plumb depths because it's concerned with those, for les ados, all-important surfaces. TRAILER.


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