The Movie Waffler IFI French Film Festival 2019 Review - AMANDA | The Movie Waffler

IFI French Film Festival 2019 Review - AMANDA

amanda review
When his sister is killed in a terrorist attack, a young man is charged with caring for his niece.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Mikhaël Hers

Starring: Vincent Lacoste, Isaure Multrier, Stacy Martin, Ophélia Kolb, Marianne Basler, Greta Scacchi

amanda film poster

"Elvis has left the building!" That innocuous statement takes on deep meaning for Amanda (Isaure Multrier), the seven-year-old title character of writer/director Mikhaël Hers' study of how grief is so often interrupted by the necessities of carrying on in our hectic and pressure cooker societies. Early in the film, Amanda's mother, Sandrine (Ophélia Kolb), explains the phrase to her daughter before introducing her to Presley's music. Amanda doesn't quite understand the phrase, but she enjoys dancing around to Elvis with her Mom. In the movie's tear-jerking closing scene, the meaning of "Elvis has left the building" will finally hit home for Amanda.

amanda review

The protagonist of Amanda is not the child herself but her 24-year-old uncle David (Vincent Lacoste, delivering arguably the male performance of the year). David is portrayed in a way that might mark him out as a "loser" in an Anglo-Saxon film, working two low paying jobs, one as an odd-job man for a Parisian landlord, the other trimming trees and hedges for Paris's parks department. But this is France, and David's life is portrayed as idyllic, one job allowing him to meet people from around the world, the other affording him the opportunity to enjoy the sights of Paris's public gardens. Things look up even more when he begins dating Lena (Stacy Martin, who like Jane Birkin, Kristin Scott Thomas and Charlotte Rampling before her, is cashing in on her fluency in French to expand her choice of roles), a pretty pianist resident in one of his boss's apartments.

[ READ MORE: IFI French Film Festival Review - Oh Mercy! ]

David invites Sandrine and Lena for a picnic in a central Paris park, but his train is delayed and he arrives late. What greets him is a scene of horror, the aftermath of a terrorist attack in which armed men opened fire on those enjoying a summer day in the park. Sandrine has been killed, while Lena has taken a bullet in the arm. With Sandrine and David's father long off the scene and their estranged English mother (Greta Scacchi) having returned to London, David is left to temporarily take care of Amanda, with some help from his aunt (Marianne Basler), while he decides if he can accept the permanent responsibility of becoming her guardian.

amanda review

There's a great cruelty to how those closest to the deceased are the ones granted the least amount of time to mourn in the immediate aftermath. In less tragic cases than David's, those left behind find themselves saddled with a thousand and one duties to perform, from arranging funerals to informing family and friends. When my own father passed away last year, it wasn't until a week after his death that I had the chance to sit down and process his absence. Perhaps such distractions are a gift, a way of keeping us moving forward. For David, he has so little time to mourn his sister that he finds himself breaking down in public, rushing to the restrooms at a train station to dry his tears before meeting a visiting family renting one of his landlord's properties, his financial state forcing him to make an immediate return to his work.

[ READ MORE: IFI French Film Festival 2019 Review - Lullaby ]

But for David, his greatest job is now caring for Amanda, a role he initially seems far from qualified to perform. At first he struggles to bond with the child, unable to speak openly about their shared loss. When he throws out Sandrine's old toothbrush, Amanda reacts angrily, accusing him of trying to replace her mother. The child has mood swings, one evening refusing to return home with David, the other begging him not to leave her with his aunt. David struggles to maintain his stoic facade, and his heart is further crushed when Lena expresses an unwillingness to continue their relationship. It's left unspoken, but perhaps she blames David for the injury which now threatens her career.

amanda review

Time heals all wounds though, and Amanda is a patient film. There are few big dramatic moments, rather we simply watch David and Amanda adapt to the mundane practicalities of their new life together, finding strength in each other. In many ways, Amanda plays like a gentler, more hopeful, and arguably superior French cousin of Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea, the main difference being that the protagonist here hasn't given up, as he simply doesn't have that luxury with a child now in his care. It all climaxes in a scene at Wimbledon's centre court - as a losing tennis player's comeback becomes an allegory for carrying on against the odds - that will have you simultaneously reaching for a hanky while punching the air. Just like Elvis, we all have one great comeback in us.

Amanda is in UK/ROI cinemas January 3rd, 2020.

2019 movie reviews