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April 07, 2023

The Worst Ones

worst ones.jpeg

Les Pires
Lise Akoka & Romane Gueret - 2022
Kino Lorber Films

Is it possible for a film to be too meta for its own good? I am not entirely certain how to write about The Worst Ones as it seems to bring up questions about the nature of filmmaking, the use of non-professional actors, and especially how children are used in film. Hopefully, I will be reasonably clear in my basic description.

The film is about the making of a film in a housing project in Northern France. The director, Gabriel, has chosen two boys and two girls to be his main characters. Without any clear indication, the film switches between Gabriel's film and scenes of his young actors' own lives. Gabriel has deliberately chosen from the children he auditioned those who appear to have had the most difficult lives. Among the residents of the neighborhood, the chosen children are considered the worst.

The entire film was done documentary style. What may have well been a case of art following life during production has two of the "stars" essentially walking away from the production, with the film mostly concentrating on Ryan, a combative pre-teen, and Lily, a sweet-natured 15 year old known reputed for promiscuity. The two become more emotionally invested in the filmmaking process, with Ryan experiencing the biggest change in channeling his anarchic energy.

It is never made clear what kind of story Gabriel is filming. At one point, Lily and a boy about her age, Jessy, are filming a bedroom scene. Lily is in bra and panties, while Jessy is wearing underpants. They are underneath a blanket and a filmed tentatively kissing. Simultaneously that scene and the filming of the filming bring up questions about child exploitation. Was Gabriel's scene necessary both as part of the film-within-the-film as well as in the overall structure of The Worst Ones? I bring this up as we are in a time of questioning of expressions and depictions of sexuality of minors. Making me wonder more so about Gabriel's film is his climatic scene with the release of hundreds of pigeons, with Ryan wearing a prothetic stomach making him appear pregnant.

Perhaps I missed the point. The concept may have been interesting enough, especially following some recent French films that have made use of non-professional youth such as Cuties and Rodeo. My own take is that for all the worthwhile issues raised in The Worst Ones, the filmmakers became so involved in their own funhouse mirrors of self-reference that they lost the audience on their way.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 7, 2023 07:09 AM