Chronicling the turbulent teenage years of a French delinquent whose police record reads longer than the complete works of Marcel Proust, Standing Tall (La Tete haute) is a gritty and compassionate look at an adolescence riddled by violence, punishment and the idea that rehabilitation is a long way off, but not entirely out of the question.
Carried by an electric lead performance from newcomer Rod Paradot, this fourth feature from actress turned director Emmanuelle Bercot can be as volatile as it’s main character, delivering plenty of intensity but not always succeeding on the dramatic front, especially with a running time that ultimately outstays its welcome. Yet the dynamic acting — including supporting turns by Catherine Deneuve and Benoit Magimel — helps make for an engaging portrait of a quintessential Gallic bad boy who keeps fighting authority, no matter how much authority always wins.
A surprising choice to kick off an otherwise star-studded Cannes Film Festival, Standing Tall is not quite the rabble-rousing, explosive opener that could have been Mad Max: Fury Road, which premiered on the Croisette the following day. But it certainly dishes out its own measure of violent confrontations and unpredictable outbursts, all of them the work of 16-year-old provincial teen, Malony (Paradot) — whose uncontainable rage is what drives the film from start to finish. Call him Mad Malony.