a blond boy in a red shirt holds his hand to his forehead
Courtesy Gene Siskel Film Center

The line between fact and fiction always blurs when a camera is pointed at people, but in Lisa Akoka and Romane Gueret’s arresting new feature, it’s more like a game of three-card monte. A film crew comes to an economically depressed French town to cast kids for their movie and gets overly involved in their lives. Almost from the start, the amateurs act professionally. Is this because they’re accustomed to ordinary people having cameras in their faces from watching reality shows or because at no point are they being “themselves”?

The filmmakers stress the make-believe elements to their untrained charges: a pregnant stomach prosthetic is strapped on a teen virgin, a tough-as-nails little boy is coaxed into crying. But the behind-the-scenes “off-camera” moments dominate the running time. This approach is nothing new; Abbas Kiarostami, for instance, made many films in which looking behind the curtain is at least half the point. The thing that makes it work is that whether the kids are pretending or not, they fully inhabit their parts. If anything, it’s the professionals—the film director and his crew—whose words and motions sometimes feel forced. Perhaps that’s intentional as well, to keep the viewer off balance. Every movie is a documentary record of a group of people at a particular time and place. Whether staged, scripted, or improvised, it becomes a unique record. In the final scene, the little boy who claimed to never cry in his audition smiles at the camera after sobbing freely. Which part is acting? Who knows? Who cares? 99 min.

Gene Siskel Film Center