For her second full-length feature, Alix Delaporte has delivered a gem of a film, brimful of emotion, beautifully paced with exquisite performances from the three lead actors especially young newcomer Romain Paul. Delaporte has a rare talent for telling a story without using melodrama to heighten the emotions. She is just as sparing with dialogue giving the actors space to use body language and facial expressions where other, less daring directors, may have recourse to words. Le Dernier Coup de Marteau is a joy from beginning to end and well deserving of the Laterna prize for Delaporte as last year’s Venice Film Festival.
Thirteen-year-old Victor (Paul) lives with his mother Nadia (Clotilde Hesme) in a caravan on a beach just outside the French southern city of Montpellier. When he goes to the city’s opera house to meet his father for the first time, he knows nothing of the world of classical music. His father is the famous conductor Samuel Rovinski (Grégory Gadebois) who is in Montpellier to perform Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Victor begins to attend rehearsals and gradually builds up the courage to reveal his identity to his father. With the burgeoning relationship with Rovinski, his upcoming trial to become a professional footballer, his mother’s serious illness and his growing attraction to his young Spanish neighbour Luna (Mireira Vilapuig), Victor struggles to cope with the demands of adolescent life.
Classical music and football are not often brought together in one art form. But Delaporte shows how both disciplines are born from a similar passion. And how this recognition becomes the catalyst for the relationship between father and son. Interestingly Abderrahamane Sissako’s award winning Timbuku
also combined football and art. One of that films most memorable scenes is a football match
played without a ball music which effectively turns the game into a form of modern dance. Delaporte shows admirably how small gestures can carry the emotional weight of a film – a lingering hand on his son’s arm when Rovinski stops Victor from stepping in front of a speeding car, Luna carefully cutting Victor’s hair one evening on the beach. Even the shocking discovery of Nadia’s illness is a masterpiece of understatement.
Paul’s performance as the taciturn Victor is outstanding and earned him the Marcello Mastroianni prize for best newcomer at the 2014 Venice Film Festival. The actor, who bears a passing resemblance to the late US actor River Phoenix, is in practically every scene and gives a wonderfully controlled, intense performance well in advance of his tender years. He is more than ably assisted by Grégory Gadebois,
a big, bear of a man, who hides a surprising sensibility à la
Tony Soprano and Hesme as the fragile, damaged Nadia. Delaporte’s first film, Angèle et Tony
, was widely praised by French critics and Le Dernier Coup de Marteau
equally so. Delaporte is a fine addition to the ever expanding group of talented French, female directors.