Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 28, 2019 3:16 pm 
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A young man and his young niece cope with loss in a terrorist attack

Stephen Dalton, reviewing the film for Hollywood Reporter, calls Michaël Hers' Amanda "a quietly moving celebration of human resilience," but also "oddly devoid of passion or psychological nuance," and "a pleasantly banal film."* This strange contradiction is true. Even in his first film Memory Lane (2010) I found Hers had a tendency to trivialize his material, while also already then drawn to sadness. One thing is clear and positive, though. This is another chance, well taken, for the prolific and increasingly known young actor Vincent Lacoste to expand his range into a more serious and adult mode - something he already got a chance to do in a big way when Christophe Honoré chose him for the (I would say more challenging) lead role in his complex autobiographical film Sorry Angel/Plaire, aimer et courir vite (NYFF 2018). This may seem a paradox, but doesn't one often find the best thing about a movie is the actors? Lacoste is out of his comfort zone of comedy and romance in both of these pictures.

As the story begins, in the early summer, David Sorel(Lacoste) is just tentatively dealing with his life in his early twenties. He is spending a lot of time quite comfortably helping his sister Sandrine (Ophélia Kolb), a lycée English teacher, raise her 7-year-old daughter, Amanda (the round-faced, quietly feisty Isaure Multrier), and gently initiating a romance with a pianist, Léna (Stacy Martin of Nymphomaniac). The security of the situation is suddenly and brutally broken when, one day, David walks into a park full of dead bodies, the result of a terrorist attack (not quite corresponding to any real one) that has taken away Sandrine and wounded Léna. Hers shows the strewn, bloodied bodies, but goes into no further details. For the film, all that matter is that the grief-stricken David now becomes largely responsible for Amanda as a potential guardian.

Family is relegated away in this story, to make the pressure on David greater. His and Sandrine's father is dead, and their mother has long ago left them and their father to live in London, and become estranged. A recent gesture on her part toward reconciliation, accepted by Sandrine, who's planned and paid for a Wimbledon trip there with David and Amanda, is left dangling. A benevolent aunt named Maud (Marianne Basler) shares in providing a place to sleep for Amanda for a while.

Lacoste is muted here, and it works well, especially when he breaks into quiet sobbing that seems surprisingly real, and unstudied. But the action at this point is desultory-seeming; the energy, never high, begins to dissipate. Is anything going to happen? The strongest moments are when Amanda, who has been repressed (though discovered sobbing in the middle of the night by David), puts her foot down, complaining about being shunted back and forth been two households now, and refusing to let David remove her mother's toiletries from the bathroom. David is handling grief by being mired in work, still working as an arborist and doing duty for an Airbnb type unit, while sleeping over at Sandrine's place much of the time to be with Amanda when she's there. Léna has a damaged arm from the attack, but more than that is traumatized, and leaves Paris to rejoin her family.

David goes to Léna one day and try to bring her back to Paris, but she feels they hardly know each other, and agrees only to a night of love. He carries out another gesture, bolder in a way: he takes Amanda for the trip to London., where they stay at an Airbnb, and do more travelogue-ish bike riding, of which he has done a lot already, and he wears more of an endless succession of T shirts. They meet his and Sandrine's long -estranged mother Alison (Greta Scacchi), Amanda's grandmother, in a London park, and get ice cream. David and Amanda share emotions at a tennis match.

"Les choses de la vie," the things of life: they are fraught with meaning and intensity in a time like this of trauma and sorrow. But for a film to work, you've got to put some spin on them, give them some oomph. We don't need Michael Haneke, but I couldn't help remembering how devastating and unforgettable he made grief in Amour. And after all, an older life partner like the one played by Tritignant has a lot more to grieve about then the fresh-cheeked, curly-haired Vincent Lacoste, delicate an natural though he may be as an actor. He is more convincing and effective in his two other performances currently playing in New York: as the adventurous young gay man in love with an older writer dying of AIDS in Honoré's Sorry Angel, and as the passionate, challenged medical student in Lilti's The Freshman. It's still a sweet, touching performance, but it could have been given more poignancy.


Amanda, 107 mins., debuted at Venice 2018; also in festivals of Bordeaux, Tokyo and Montreal. In French cinemas Nov. 2018, with highly favorable press reception (AlloCiné press rating 4.0). Screened for this review as part of the UniFrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, Mar. 2019.
*Guy Lodge paints a much more glowing picture of Amanda in his Variety review.

Rendez-Vous showtime:
Saturday, March 2 6:00pm
Q&A with Mikhaël Hers
Saturday, March 9 1:30pm
U . S . P R E M I E R E

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