Cry Uncle

The 2015 Paris terror attack  looms large in this French drama

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Amanda
RPL Film Theatre

Jan. 17–19

Stories about unlikely paternal figures who rise to the occasion are a dime a dozen. The last time a mildly original twist was attempted was in Manchester by the Sea (2016), when Casey Affleck’s emotionally damaged janitor mustered up the courage to acknowledge he had no business raising a teenager (which was obvious from minute-one).

Amanda doesn’t stray from the formula, but does give it an interesting twist. For a change, the mandatory custody dispute isn’t the main source of tension. While focused on a handful of characters, it portrays the impact of terrorism in big European cities more effectively than large budget recreations.

David (Vincent Lacoste, Lolo) is your standard millennial: strapped for cash, lacking ambition, but a good chap overall. A gig economy vet, he juggles a series of menial jobs — yet maintains an easygoing demeanour that makes him a pleasant companion. David’s most stable relationship is with his sister Sandrine, the mother of the titular Amanda.

Tragedy strikes when Sandrine gets killed in a terror attack. A bereft David becomes his seven year-old niece’s main caregiver. Despite his efforts, he fails to provide Amanda with a stable environment. As well, his new responsibilities are getting in the way of a promising relationship with a small-town girl. Alternative arrangements are considered.

Here’s where the movie takes a different path. David adjusts, but doesn’t fundamentally change. There’s no artificial drama because there’s no need: just imagine informing a child her mother is dead. All the tension emerges organically (delayed grief, deflated expectations, personal sacrifices).

While the film works as a whole, one thing stands out: we never see the terror attack. We arrive to the scene alongside the mercifully delayed David. Like him, it takes us a minute to process the horrific (yet all too frequent) tableau. It knocks you out, but you rebuild, like the characters on screen.