Léora Barbara, Karole Rocher, Benjamin Biolay, Melissa Rodrigues, Laëtitia Guerard, Guillaume Depardieu / Fiction / French
A smart, witty and stylish account of an eventful French girlhood.
A poignant, beautifully observed portrait of a year in the life of an 11-year-old girl, Sylvie Verheyde’s new movie is one of the best evocations of early adolescence in recent years. It’s 1977, and young Parisian Stella is starting her new school. She struggles in class and is at risk of having to repeat the year due to low grades, but at least there’s a burgeoning friendship with Gladys, the bright daughter of Argentine exiles. Home life is not easy: she’s kept awake till all hours by the noise from the bar her parents run, and her mum and dad’s marriage is beginning to fray. Still, some support is at hand from the quiet, tender avuncular interest paid to her by regular customer Alain (Guillaume Depardieu, in one of his final roles before his untimely death last year), and there’s always the solace of listening to your favourite records alone in your room. Continuing the exploration of teenage experience in her acclaimed 1997 Un frère, Verheyde’s new film conveys the fears, desires, hopes and anxieties of its young heroine with absorbing subtlety. Following her progress at school, her growing intellectual curiosity, and her increasingly troubled home life, the film is infused with Stella’s dreamy sense of wonder: Nicolas Gaurin’s handheld, light-flared camerawork turns the least promising of settings, like the rubbish tip where Stella spends some of her holiday, into places of enchantment. And yet alongside these impressionistic flourishes, the movie depicts the impact on Stella of her parents’ marital difficulties with unflinching acuity. Capturing the resilience and vulnerability of adolescence with marvellous assurance, Stella features a remarkable turn by Léora Barbara in the title role, a performance that combines a wiry toughness with guileless fragility. Turning up at the party of the most popular girl in class, Stella’s voiceover matterof- factly informs us: “Even without an invitation I decided to go. I don’t give a damn.” In the gloriously uncompromising Stella, young viewers now have a heroine who’s more than a match for her insipid US teen-movie equivalents.
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