DAY 1 got off to a strong start with two films that are hopefully a harbinger of  things to come in this 68th edition of the Cannes Festival. I just finished watching the Matteo Garrone THE TELLER OF TALES, which was screened before the press at 7pm. I will talk about that film in a later post.

French filmmaker Emmanuelle Bercot’s LA TETE HAUTE is an uncensored and deftly-lensed look at youth in perdition. Her portrait of Malony, an all-guns-blazin’ youth (played to pitch perfection by non-actor Rod Paradot) who knocks about in the French city of Dunkerque stealing cars is teased-out in all its raw, devastating beauty. And it is devastating when a young cannot find his place in society.

Malony gets put through the juvenile system all under the eyes of his mother, a woman who’s always got her eye on something other than raising her children, and those of an increasingly-frustrated juvenile delinquent judge, played by Catherine Deneuve.

What LA TETE seems to allude to is that the justice system for hopeless delinquents like Malony is the proverbial revolving-door. Once a kid (the film actually follows Malony’s life from birth until age seventeen) falls into the wheels and cogs of the juvenile justice system, he hardly stands a chance to live a normal life again. And yet, you’ll read what you want into this movie.

Rod Paradot’s Malony is an extreme study in low self-esteem and things rarely work out for him, sure (and it is from lack of trying), but rather than serve up some bleak commentary on certain social realities affecting the more disadvantaged youths, Bercot worries more about keeping her camera steady and coaxing mind-blowing (and I don’t use that word too often around these parts) performances out of Paradot (again: a non-actor) as well as Sara Forestier (who plays the mother). Benoît Magimel (who plays the social worker assigned to Malony) and Catherine Deneuve both deliver very strong and reliable performances, predictably, as they are top-tier actors.

There it is, the chaos, tears and mayhem that occurs when the courts get involved and families are broken up, but Bercot carries the film forth with such precision, realism and an utter avoidance of sentimentality that LA TETE HAUTE is a stunner of a movie.