Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2023 3:51 pm 
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Joys and dangers of street casting

This film-within-a-film seeks to explore multiple aspects of shooting movies with underage non-actors - the beauties and charms but also the pitfalls and moral hazards of such work. The teenagers handsomely lensed by dp Éric Dumont - gorgeous light enhancing the beauty of fresh faces - are especially powerless because they come from poverty, being mostly residents of the "Picasso" housing project in the northern costal town of Boulogne-sur-mer. Local residents of the area object to the casting. Why don't the filmmakers pick more flattering representatives of their town? they ask. Why choose instead "les pires," the worst ones, the misfits, the disciplinary problems? Well, there is a reason, because Gabriel (Johan Heldenbergh, star of The Broken Circle Breakdown ), the Belgian-born director, on his first feature as such though 57, having long been a casting director who dealt with young non-actors - wants to tell a story about a hard luck family, and he finds them to play versions of themselves.

Fair enough. But the resuilts can be challenging for the audience too. The kids filmed here are unkempt, unruly, and spout torrents of the foulest language in today's French maudit lexicon. But more than that they seem to be lured into violence and sex, unsafe situations as risky as anything Larry Clark would have indulged in, and with a less clear point of view than his. Gabriel befriends and acts chummy with the kids. Maybe at first his ease with them is appealing. But over time it emerges as creepy. And some of them don't buy it. One small girl, Maylis (Mélina Vanderplancke) resigns from the production midway though Gabriel begs her not to and insists she's integral to it despite having no further lines of dialogue. At other times Gabriel is shown to be overstepping the boundary into the kid's private lives.

The Worst Ones winds up being one of the most uncomfortable watches in any Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (as part of which it was screened for this review). On the other hand, the teenagers chosen as the main performers are cute and full of life and can be charming. But it's a little surprising that critics were not more bothered by the fictional director's missteps and have greeted this film since its debut at Un Certain Regard with unmixed enthusiasm.

Ryan (Timéo Mahaut) is a key figure. At first he is inarticulate, but Gabriel wants him: he has a mother (alcoholic?) who's been barred from him with a restraining order, and a close relationship with a sister. Later, it's impressive to see how the responsibility of being given a central role in the film with hundreds of pigeons released behind him in a climax, Ryan behaves in a surprisingly mature and nuanced way. Also important is Lily (Mallory Wanecque) who - in the story but also in real life? the line isn't clear - has gained a reputation as a "whore" in school and admits more than once to having given blowjobs to two boys in the restroom. Now she - the character, not the girls - is pregnant. Lily, who has star quality and a winning smile (as does Ryan) is wanted by Gabriel for to co-play in story of first love with Jessy (Loïc Pech) a 17-year-old boy who is (again the line between fact and fiction fuzzy) just back after a jail sentence for hit-and-run driving.

The time when Gabriel screams at kids and incites a schoolyard battle that does on dangerously long is concerning. But it's the sex scene he directs between Lily and Jessy - with no intimacy coordinators - that achieves maximum audience unease. In The Cinema Show Alessandro De Simone suggests although Les Pires teeters between "patheticism and exploitation" "the latter" "is openly declared and effectively neutralized." He holds that the film was "shot with great dryness" and "edited with wisdom and rhythm." Is he saying its bad taste is in good taste? I've been a fan of Larry Clark, and know the noted cinematographer Ed Lachman shot with conviction the banned-in-the-USA Ken Park. Akoka and Gueret's vision of life-on-the-run and kids being manipulated is certainly intense here. (It grows from a happy experience like Gabriel's in their film, wrangling street-cast actors and making a short film with who they found. After watching, the messiness and boundary-crossing of Les Pires linger in the mind's eye. But one remembers Rod Paradot in La Tête haute in 2016, the strong performance Emmanuelle Bercot helped him to achieve and his joy at receiving the Meilleur Espoir Masculin award. Seeking out rough young talents still seems worthwhile, despite the pitfalls. (For more perspective see the review by Anna Smith in Deadline.)

The Worst Ones/Les Pires, 99 mins., debuted in Un Certain Regard at Cannes May 22, 2022 and played at Angoulême, Toronto, Hamburg, and Namur. A Kino Lorber release Mar. 24, 2023 Quad Cinema (NYC).. Dec. 7, 2022 French release; AlloCiné press rating 3.9 (78%). Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, Lincoln Center:
Sunday, March 5 at 12:30pm (Q&A with Lise Akoka and Matthias Jacquin)
Tuesday, March 7 at 1:00pm

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