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The devastation and loss caused by terrorist attacks in Paris, Nice and elsewhere form the starting point for this determinedly gentle French film from director and co-writer Mikhaël Hers, about a fictionalised violent incident. It’s a calm, healing movie with a sweetly emollient musical score, and it consciously – counterintuitively – refuses to engage with the divisive political anger and revulsion that might be expected to be the focus of a film about terror victims. I sometimes wondered if it would look all that different if the character involved died of cancer, rather than in a horrendous mass shooting in a public park.
There is a kind of authenticity in it. Behind the headlines, there are loved ones who have to get on with their day-to-day lives. Death is commonplace. But Amanda is sometimes obtuse, with the look of a TV-movie-of-the-week, though the performances are utterly heartfelt, honest and sympathetic.
The Amanda of the title is a seven-year-old, played by newcomer Isaure Multrier, who is being raised in Paris by teacher and single mum Sandrine, played by Ophélia Kolb (a regular in the Netflix TV comedy Call My Agent). Sometimes Sandrine needs help with childcare, and this is where her twentysomething kid brother David (Vincent Lacoste) has to do his bit: picking Amanda up from school and minding her a couple of days a week. Their estranged mother Alison (Greta Scacchi) is English, living in London: they have a plan to visit the UK and go to Wimbledon, because tennis is a great love of David’s, though he is sternly set on not seeing Alison.
David has a ragbag of jobs: organising a faintly dodgy lettings arrangement for a local landlord and trimming tree branches for the parks department. Things start looking up when a beautiful tenant, Léna (Stacy Martin), seems interested in him. But then, one terrible day, David, Sandrine and Léna agree to meet up in the park; David is held up by something and shows up late, to be greeted by a scene of devastation. Léna is injured and Sandrine killed. The phrase “Islamist terror” is heard on the TV news but the incident is not discussed. Now the faintly hopeless, hapless David, hardly more than a boy himself, must step up to be a dad to Amanda, and Léna’s trauma and injuries mean that she wants to move away and live with her mother. David and Amanda feel alone and scared of the future.
One scene made me raise an eyebrow. David and Amanda are walking together in the park and she notices a couple of white people apparently berating a Muslim woman with a headscarf, perhaps specifically for her head-covering: a hotbutton issue in France, even more so than Britain, despite the recent provocations from the former foreign secretary. Amanda asks David what’s going on. He starts talking about religion in general, how they don’t believe in it, and that hell is all nonsense. The scene ends there, having apparently wrapped up the implications. Well, yes. But this woman is not being given a hard time because of religion in general. Nuns in wimples aren’t getting yelled at. She’s getting a hard time because she is a Muslim. The film feels evasive and naive there, and it is a wrong note.
But there is, nonetheless, a great sincerity and warmth in this movie and something very candid and direct in the way Lacoste and Multrier relate to each other on screen. Hers creates an uncliched scene in London in which David and Amanda go to a Centre Court match at Wimbledon, the one which, poignantly, all three planned to attend, and we simply watch Amanda’s rapt face, beaming when her favourite player is winning, mortified and on the verge of tears when he looks like losing. Is she absorbed in the spectacle, or somehow unconsciously channelling her suppressed loss and grief into the sport? It is a pleasingly emphatic emotional climax for this good-natured and well-intentioned film.
Source: The Guardian
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