La Mif: Review. By Alif Majeed.
When you think of movies about delinquents, there are some classic movies of the heartbreaking variety to choose from. The recent re-release of the Outsiders proved how well it still holds up. We also have movies like Shoeshine and Pixote, which are set both on the streets and in a cruel reformatory they sent the main characters to. But then you realize they are about male delinquents and rarely do we get a good female-centric movie about delinquents. The makers of La Mif have their hearts in the right place while making this movie. It may not hold up well when compared to other classics in the genre, but the fact is it does not need to. It certainly is a riveting movie with a lot to offer, even though it had the potential for far more.
Set in a teenage care home, the movie focuses on the resident girls and the caretakers in charge of them. To their exceptional credit, the makers depict the day-to-day activities at the care center in a matter-of-fact organic way. It is engrossing to see their train of thoughts, their perspectives, and what makes them tick.
A lot of research has gone into the movie and comes across as a lived-in world, where these characters are based on real people. Some of these stories could have happened and are not a figment of somebody’s imagination. The conversations between the girls peppered throughout the movie and how they hold on to each other are so beautiful and a huge credit for that goes to its pitch-perfect cast.
La Mif also gets the point of view of the caretakers across. The haggard nature with which the caretakers go about their business stuck in a thankless job gets a real spotlight. The main care manager Lora (an excellent Claudia Grob) seems to be the only person who cares about the kids rather than following the rules of a committee or has signed up for a paycheck or bragging rights for an internship. I found it amusing that some of them just show up so that they can say that they are helping people at dinner conversations rather than doing any real help. Ironically, that Lora cares too much also causes her to crumble in the end.
Though they are supposed to protect the girls, deep down, the staff knows this is a cruel place where the young girls are pretty much on their own. The caretakers know that there is not much they can do and have to show up day in and day out.
The one thing that felt a little forced though while the Rashomon effect where they go back multiple times to the same incidents. This usually gets used for a thriller, which this movie is not, and it gets jarring after a while when the movie keeps going to the past. I was slightly disappointed at the outcome of the multiple switches as there was no payoff in the end. It takes a while to get used to, but considering that the movie is trying to depict multiple girls’ perspectives; we get used to it after a point.
The gold standard of French movies about delinquents would still be The Class, and comparisons are unavoidable. It also reminded me multiple times of the movies of the Dardenne brothers in their portrayal of youth and the system that often fails them.
La Mif does not need to match up to them, but I’m guessing that this movie would eventually come up in many lists about female delinquents in the future (though the pickings are pretty slim at present). There is enough in La Mif to hold your attention and make you think about what you watched.
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