Dir.: Samuel Theis; Cast: Aliocha Reinert, Antoine Reinartz, Melissa Olexa, Izoa Higelin, Jade Schwartz, Mario Gallo, Romane Esch, Abdel Bensehendikh; France 2021, 93 min.
Class and gender politics are delicately explored in this sophomore feature from writer/director Samuel Theis, graduate of the famous La FEMIS film school and co-director of Party Girl (2014) which won the Camera d’Or at Cannes.
The film explores how boys process and absorb ideas of self and masculinity through ten year old Johnny (Reinert) who lives on a council estate in Forbach near the German border. Highly intelligent and mature for his age, he’s already a star pupil at the local primary school and very much the prodigal son of his broken family, taking care of little sister Melissa (Schwartz) and tearaway teenage brother Dylan (Gallo). His mother Sonia (Olexa) has just shacked up with a new boyfriend (Bensehendikh) and now works as a shop assistant in a grocery store.
But everything changes when a new teacher arrives at the school, taking Johnny under his wing. Jean Adamski (Reinartz) lives with his partner Nora (Hegelin) in a posh suburb – light years away from Johnny’s estate. Off they all go on visits to the local museum in Metz, where Nora works. Johnny even spends the night at the couple’s home, where Nora teaches him all about body language. This short encounter has serious consequences. Johnny tries out Nora’s ideas on Jean, kissing him on the lips. Jean is horrified, and shuts down all contact with his pupil. Johnny’s life soon spins out of control.
In his debut Aliocha Reinert gives a stunning performance as Johnny. With long blond hair, his androgynous look hints at gender identification issues, even though these are mostly ambivalent. But the social gap is always made transparent, Jacques Girault’s luminous camerawork keeping things light despite the thorniness of the core themes. The rough and tumble of life on the estate, and the modest but artistic household are clearly on different planets. Theis directs with great sensitivity, always giving the actors enough leash to express themselves naturalistically. Who is afraid of the second film, then? AS