DirectorLise Akoka & Romane Gueret
Release Date(s)2022 (May 23, 2023)
Studio(s)Les Films Velvet/France 3/Pictanovo/Pyramide (Kino Lorber)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
A kind of darker, unromanticized Day for Night (1973), The Worst Ones (Les Pires, 2022) is a slight but interesting French drama about a movie crew shooting a cinéma vérité-type drama about troubled young people in poverty-stricken Picasso, a city in Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France.
The film starts out suggesting something like a fictionalized version of Michael Apted’s “Up” documentaries. Before the opening credits, we see video of cast auditions, with its director, Gabriel (Johan Heldenbergh), asking everyday questions much like Apted did in his films. This is reasonably interesting, but where The Worst Ones really intrigues is what we see of the film-within-the-film during production, and how the audience begins to question whether the filmmakers are bringing opportunities to Picasso’s residents or merely exploiting their poverty. Having been born in Detroit, where “ruin porn,” photos of once grand buildings crumbling after decades of urban blight, turns up in my social media almost daily, The Worst Ones strikes an interesting chord.
Flemish director Gabriel casts non-professional actors for his new film. Sixteen-year-old Lily (Mallory Wanecque), who lost her kid brother to cancer and regarded as a “slut” by her peers, in the film-within-the-film plays a 15-year-old pregnant girl whose teenage boyfriend is newly released from prison. Her character’s little brother is played by Ryan (Timéo Mahault), a nine-year-old with ADHD and other issues possibly stemming from being separated from his mentally ill mother. The boyfriend is played by Jessy (Loic Pech), himself on parole after stealing a car and serving time for a hit-and-run.
Gabriel’s presumed desire for verisimilitude soon gives way to laughable pretentiousness. Looking at a crumbling side wall of one of the project buildings, he exclaims “Le magnifique!” and insists on getting a shot with Ryan riding his bike past it. Later, in dramatizing a bullying incident with Ryan being picked on at school, Gabriel is so determined to make it look authentic he all but incites the other boys to really beat up Ryan, who is obviously traumatized by the incident. Creepier still is an underage lovemaking scene Gabriel directs with an uncomfortable mixture of passion and detachment.
Ultimately, we come to recognize Gabriel’s narcissism and his inability to listen to the needs of his non-actor actors. Conversely, production assistant Judith (Esther Archambault) bonds with Lily, empathically accepting her for who she is, not for her potential to transform into a character in service to a larger film project. One of the film’s best scenes has Judith, alone in her room late one night, scrolling through social media posts Lily created while her brother was still alive.
Curiously, The Worst Ones seems largely unaware of, or at least never really acknowledges its own obvious conundrum: that in using real poor people with real problems for its film about the making of a film about the exploitation of poor people and their communities, it, too is arguably just as guilty as the filmmakers within their film they criticize. The Worst Ones may ridiculous and pretentious in the way Gabriel’s film appears to be, but is it somehow just as dishonest? How could it not be?
Kino Lorber’s DVD of The Worst Ones presents the film in its original 2.35:1 ‘scope ratio, with 16:9 enhanced widescreen. The image is impressive and on par with other HD digital-source features. The French Dolby Digital audio is offered in both 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo mixes, and the English subtitles are good. Region 1 encoded.
Extras are limited to a trailer and Chasse Royale (2016), a 25-minute short film by the same directors.
The Worst Ones is consistently interesting and moderately successful in its aims. Recommended.
- Stuart Galbraith IV