Magazine article Screen International

'Learn by Heart': Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Learn by Heart': Review

Article excerpt

Dir: Mathieu Vadepied. France. 2015. 93 mins

Veteran French cinematographer Mathieu Vadepied delivers an amiably accomplished feature debut with comedy drama Learn By Heart, which closes Cannes Critics' Week. Telling the story of a French Senegalese 14-year-old boy (newcomer Balamine Guirassy) living with his mother in a north Paris housing project, the film benefits from a deftavoidance of gritty urban cliché, despite utilising familiar story ingredients - drug dealing, broken home, absent family members - from the contemporary social-realist handbook. But a lack of strong marketable elements make this mildly enjoyable film hard to position beyond its native France, where Gaumont releases in September.

Cast after extensive search, non-professional actor Guirassy certainly brings the right mix of vulnerability and street-smart bravado to the role of protagonist Adama, whose mother has moved out with him from the home in which his father and half-siblings live due to France's polygamy laws.

Failing at school, Adama misses his elder brother who has been sent back to Senegal to keep him out of trouble. He quickly senses an opportunity when his younger friend Mamadou (Ali Bidanessy) discovers a six-ounce (150-gram) brick of cannabis resin on the ground after a police raid on the neighbourhood dealers. But the nascent capitalists inevitably fall foul of a local dealer, who then does a U-turn, seeing the advantage of employing this angelic-looking duo to shiftever bigger amounts of product.

Exploiting minors in drug retailing is hardly a new topic for screen drama (see TV's The Wire, etc), but Vadepied (who lensed (Read My Lips and The Intouchables) and co-writers Olivier Demangel and Vincent Poymiro employ a refreshingly light touch as the two young entrepreneurs negotiate the hazards of their profession. …

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