Presented at the Cannes Film Festival 2021 and in theaters this week, Laura Wandel’s first magnificent feature film penetrates the world of childhood, damaged by school bullying. A little gem and a real slap to discover absolutely. Encounter.
School playground. A little girl cries at the thought of entering an unknown world. She clings to her older brother who is used to the place, imploring him not to leave her alone. Already the frame is as if on its knees, at the height of these two small beings with obvious complicity, whom we are going to follow as they enter this a priori protected space, within which the adult does not have (more) the right to return.
This overwhelming opening scene lays the foundations of what the sensitive Laura Wandel wants to paint for us, whom we met in Cannes in July 2021, in a small garden as isolated (but more secure! ) than the world apart that she describes in her film, “that of childhood and school in which the child discovers things for the first time, is confronted outside the family with a new microcosm and learns social codes. A moment when seeds are sown in us, reverberate later as adults and influence our behavior in society.”
Enclosed, reduced, violent space, at the height of children
A possible breeding ground for violence, the school is indeed this closed and reduced space which questions the “notion of territoriality which echoes the conflicts of the world in general”in particular via the football field “which in Belgium takes up the majority of the space” and therefore confines those who do not play it.
Closed space, violent space, but also reduced space like the child’s vision of the world. The bias is clear for the director: never leave school, never enter the family universe and, in order to place the spectator in immersion and help him to remember the things experienced as children or by his children, never leaving the intense blue gaze of the film’s heroine, whose inner journey we follow. A point of view that often literally leaves adults who want to do well out of the picture, whether it’s the father (Karim Leklou, still as physical, intense and charismatic) or the teacher (Laura Verlinden with rare tenderness).
“There was really a desire not to pass judgment on the actions of adults who try to do as they can. But in all the mechanisms of violence, it’s difficult to pinpoint where it starts, the root of things. child who makes another suffer is himself suffering in a certain sense, he lacked listening and kindness and I tried to convey this, in particular with the director’s scene where we can feel that little Antoine’s father is not benevolent and that his violence does not come out of nowhere.”
While it underlines the characters’ impossibility of acting, the off-screen, on the other hand, makes the spectator more active, “physically, not only intellectually” according to the wishes of the filmmaker: indeed, during the 1h13 of film, we feel viscerally engaged alongside his moving heroes, embodied by two prodigious young actors that we will never have to take our eyes off.
Two endearing heroes, two actors to follow absolutely
Maya Vanderbeque and Gunter Duret: they were in Cannes that day, in front of us as intense as their characters, answering our questions with pleasure, frankly evoking their emotion in the face of the audience’s reactions during the day’s screening, happy to bring this subject of which -they reassure us when we ask them the question- “we talk the most at school, especially in class councils”. If Gunter has already played before, it is the first time for Maya who immediately impresses us with her commitment: “I knew as soon as I saw Laura that I wanted to be on this film, to be with her, and that’s why I told her ‘I’ll give everything for the film’, that is to say all my strength”she tells us.
A force that bursts the screen, put at the service of an endearing character when he learns to decipher not the words as we do in first grade, but the behavior of those around him: “I wanted to show social learning more than the intellectual learning of subjects. Learning the relationship to thebe, which is done differently according to the two children”, acknowledges the director.
Indeed, “Abel is quite shy, he doesn’t want to make things worse. He can’t cope with the harassment he’s undergoing, and lives a real dilemma. In the meantime, he lets his sister Nora do his thing and stays behind. Nora who tries to protect her brother from the harassment he suffers…