VENICE (Reuters) - A French film that improbably links soccer and classical music in a tale of a sports-mad teenage boy living in poverty with his dying mother and who meets his estranged conductor father for the first time charmed the Venice Film Festival on Wednesday.
Alix Delaporte's "Le Dernier Coup de Marteau" (The Last Hammer Blow) relies heavily on body language rather than dialogue to communicate its bittersweet coming-of-age story.
"What you will see in the film is there is not much dialogue, people do not talk much, characters do not talk much," Delaporte told a news conference. "I've tried to replace words with movements."
The film is one of 20 being shown in competition for the Golden Lion trophy to be awarded on Saturday.
The second feature film by Delaporte, who got her start in documentaries, avoids slipping into sentimentality while making its unlikely plot seem plausible, largely on the strength of understated, nuanced performances by its three principles.
"I have always liked contrasts and it was like a challenge to me to put these two elements together," Delaporte said. "I haven't told myself I want to make a movie about football and classical music."
Each of the actors speaks, in effect, a different body language - soccer playing for the 13-year-old Victor, the dance-style movements of conducting for his father, and the crippled movements of a dying woman for the mother.
Romain Paul plays Victor, whose abilities as a soccer player have attracted talent scouts. Delaporte said she chose him for the role because unlike most actors his age, he could be silent.
"He had that ability to put silence between the sentences," Delaporte told Reuters. "It's very unusual for a kid because usually they speak very fast because they have that fear that they won't remember the text."
Victor lives in a ramshackle community of trailers and beach huts with his mother Nadia, played by Clotilde Hesme, who is wasting away from an unspecified disease that is probably cancer, and who is absent for part of the film in hospital.
Gregory Gadebois plays conductor Samuel Rovinski, the father who deserted mother and child before Victor was born, but shows up to conduct a performance of Gustav Mahler's Sixth Symphony, also known as "The Tragic", in a nearby city.
Victor, in part because he and his mother need a small amount of money to prepare their trailer for winter, tracks down his father at the concert hall and confronts him with the issue of his paternity, for which his mother has the legal paperwork.
Rather than becoming a story of a shakedown of a rich father by his love child, the conductor strikes up a relationship with the son he did not know he had. He invites him to rehearsals and offers to have Victor come and live with him
"THE CHILD IN ALL OF US"
Victor, who has no musical training, displays a latent interest in his father's music. But he also has to deal with his love for his mother, for the girl next door, and his talent for soccer, forcing him to make the great decision of his life.
"I didn't really want to make a film about young people, but rather about the child who is in all of us," Delaporte said.
"I think I am telling the story of a family, both from the point of view of the adults and the child. It's a film about building one's own life without parents, or without part of the family, how to live alone and how to build a future."
Trade publication "The Hollywood Reporter" said the film was "an intimate drama in which words play second fiddle to situations and images".
(Michael Roddy is an arts and entertainment correspondent for Reuters. The views expressed are his own)
(Additional reporting by Rollo Ross, Editing by Angus MacSwan)