Les Mains en l'air (2010)
aka: Hands Up
A film directed by Romain Goupil

Genre: Comedy / Drama

Film Review

Les Mains en l'air photo
The issue of what to do with illegal immigrants continues to be a hot topic in France and in his latest film on the subject director Romain Goupil comes close to likening the treatment of the so-called sans-papiers to the rounding up of Jews in France during the Occupation. That the film was released just a few months after Rose Bosch's La Rafle makes this parallel almost self-evident and gives it added bite, making it a forceful, if not downright provocative, attack on President Sarkozy's controversial initiatives to deal with economic migrants. The fact that the main (pro-immigration) character in the film is played by Sarkozy's own sister-in-law Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi brings a certain piquancy to the film (and doubtless led to some ructions in the Sarkozy household).

Les Mains en l'air certainly has noble aims - to make us aware of the human consequences of the kind of anti-immigration measures which are becoming increasingly prevalent in the west. Will we, in sixty years' time, look back on this present era with the same shame and revulsion that we now feel for the Nazi Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda?  The injustice and inhumanity that are meted out to economic migrants by supposedly civilised nations are brought into sharp relief when the situation is presented from a child's perspective. The problem with the film is that it does not adopt an exclusively child's point-of-view, but instead flits between the world of the child and the world of the adult and consequently fails to deliver a coherent picture of migrant persecution, nor one that the audience can readily engage with.

A more serious failing of the film is that it does not offer a convincing portrayal of the way in which young children behave. Without exception, all of the child protagonists appear to acting either as proto-adults or as the kind of stereotypical brats beloved by the writers of sitcoms and soap operas. The fact that in several scenes the children speak lines (often mechanically) that only an adult could understand, let alone speak, does little to endear them to the audience and seriously undermines the film's credibility. The keen naturalistic edge that Romain Goupil manages to achieve with his unfussy mise-en-scène and documentary-tinted cinematographic style is pretty well undermined by the grim artificiality of the characterisation, and this credibility gap merely exposes the Manichean shallowness with which Goupil tries to tackle a complex and sensitive issue. Whilst the film does have considerable value in prompting us to reflect on one of the great social themes of our time, it struggles to engage our sympathies and, as a piece of drama, feels too superficial and vague to have much of an impact.
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Film Credits

Directed by Romain Goupil
Starring: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Linda Doudaeva, Jules Ritmanic, Louna Klanit, Louka Masset
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