Amanda review – charming but slight story of family tragedy

Mikhail Hers's low-key drama is entertaining but lacks the dramatic punch required to fully sell its premise

When making a film that deals with the very real, very serious traumas that dominate the headlines of the day, the question is immediately raised of how serious the tone needs to be. With Amanda, writer-director Mikhael Hers comes up with a rather surprising answer – that a film barely needs to take itself seriously at all. For a movie that revolves around an Islamist mass shooting, this is a remarkably breezy slice of light entertainment that mines just as much of its impact from jolly family comedy as it does from its political violence.

David (Vincent Lacoste) is a young and carefree Parisian working odd jobs who occasionally babysits his seven-year-old niece Amanda (Isaure Multrier) in order to help out sister and single mother Sandrine (Ophelia Kolb). It’s an existence he’s happy with but one that is totally upended when Sandrine is killed in a terrorist attack. Reeling from the shock and trying to find the time and space to grieve, David must also reshape his life as Amanda’s guardian, which also means assuming a number of responsibilities he’s not really ready for.

Watching Amanda whilst being aware of its premise makes for a strange opening 20 minutes. The gentle, familial ease shared between David and Sandrine instead thrums with the ominous energy of the disaster just around the corner. Lacoste and Kolb are both hugely likeable in their roles, and quickly you find yourself wishing that the plot didn’t require Sandrine to die. Not only is their brother-sister dynamic one of Amanda’s best threads, the film actually loses some depth after the attack takes place. Though Hers does employ some disarmingly effective techniques immediately after the tragedy – sounds become muffled, and the newfound emptiness in David’s soul is reflected in lifeless streets and parks – these flourishes are all too quickly left by the wayside. Later attempts at greater emotional resonance, like David’s sudden breakdown at a train station or Amanda waking up from a panic-inducing nightmare, fail to hit as hard as they should, since Amanda gives too little attention to smaller, day-to-day grieving processes. The big stuff rarely feels earned as a result.

Instead, Hers goes all in on light entertainment, and to this end the film is rather successful. Amanda‘s 100-odd minute runtime zips by and Lacoste and Multrier have charm to spare as a duo. It’s fun spending time in David’s new, makeshift family unit, though the occasional attempts at more wrenching drama often pull you out of the experience, highlighting Amanda’s tonal dissonance. The ending is also very strange: an utter anti-climax that bears little in common with the rest of the film, ending the whole thing on an odd note of confusion. Still, it isn’t enough to spoil what is for the most part an enjoyable coming-of-age tale, the cinematic equivalent of a relaxing stroll.

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