Cannes Review: Lise Akoka & Romane Gueret’s ‘The Worst Ones’

The challenges of street casting are explored in The Worst Ones (Les Pires), an Un Certain Regard drama about a film within a film. Directed by Lise Akoka and Romane Gueret, it sees a film crew hit a working class French town, with thought-provoking and sometimes darkly funny results. 

Flemish director Gabriel (Johan Heldenbergh) is casting kids in Picasso, in the suburbs of Boulogne-Sur-Mer. His feature is about a pregnant teen and her younger brother, and he wants authentic local residents. The neighbors are surprised that he’s only casting “les pires” — what they consider to be the worst ones, or the hoodlums. But there’s raw talent in Lily (Mallory Wanecque) and hot-headed little Ryan (Timéo Mahaut).

Lily is excited to be meeting folks from a different walk of life, and young men who treat her nicely. Ryan is initially reluctant to channel his own feelings, clearly troubled by his separation from his mother among other problems. But both may find filming therapeutic. 

While this shows the positive side of their experience, it’s also a sometimes painful look at the problems that can arise when the industry swoops into a small town. Divisions and jealousies come up between the youngsters in the area, and older locals complain that this kind of film perpetuates stereotypes and puts wealthy folks off coming there. Why not focus on the successful gymnastic team? 

Two particularly uncomfortable scenes implicitly look at the ethics of working with minors on a low budget shoot. Anxious to achieve a realistic fight scene between a group of boys, Gabriel instructs one to insult Ryan’s mother, and yells cut far later than he should. For a love scene, he takes Lily and Jessy (Loïc Pech) aside and tells them about his first sexual experience before turning the camera on them. He asks Lily to say if she feels uncomfortable, but it’s actually Jessy who reacts badly. It’s interesting to see two female directors showing a male director imposing his own sexual and romantic experiences on a love scene, in which intimacy coordinators are notably absent.

Not that Gabriel is portrayed entirely negatively — he’s more of a tragicomic figure; indeed all of the characters are pleasantly complex and contradictory. Esther Archambault is great as Judith, who works on the production and has the ear of several of the young performers. 

Directors Akoka and Gueret have plenty of experience in casting young people, a process they explored in their short, Chasse Royale. This feature follow up is a fascinating look at the filming experience. It’s no surprise to learn that the pair are fans of Andrea Arnold: The Worst Ones should appeal to anyone who appreciates her style of filmmaking.

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