The Cannes Film Festival opened Wednesday with Emmanuelle Bercot’s “La Tete Haute,” or “Standing Tall,” a searing drama about a troubled young man who makes his way through the French juvenile justice system.
And unlike some years, the movie got the festival off to a good start, with fine performances from Catherine Denueve, who plays a juvenile justice judge, and Rod Paradot, who plays the troubled teen Malony.
Malony has a mother (Sara Forestier) of very questionable judgment, and she keeps messing up and having to deal with the court system. The movie opens with her dumping Malony on the system, when he’s only about 6 years old. But he eventually ends up back with her, off and on, for the next few years.
Then Malony really messes up by stealing a car and getting caught, and that’s when his encounters with the judge start taking a serious turn.
The judge brings in some help for counseling, a young man who went through the same kind of troubles himself, Yann, played buy Benoit Magimel.
We follow the counseling and Malony’s travels through various detention centers, with a raw look at seemingly insurmountable problems facing various social workers and their charges.
It’s a stark portrait of life for troubled kids, and Paradot oozes the frustrations and rage of someone who doesn’t know what’s going to happen with his life. At 16, he’s on the verge of going to prison if he can’t straighten up, and then he meets a young woman, Tess (Diane Rouxel), who sees something in Malony that few others have — a possible love interest.
The film, which is in French with English subtitles, probably won’t play anywhere in the United States, except for a few arthouses. But it’s a compelling look at lost youth — a modern-day version of “Rebel Without a Cause.”
“Standing Tall” is not in the main competition, but offers hope for what’s to come in the following fortnight.