THE WORST ONES – Review by Nikki Fowler
Cannes Un Certain Regard winner The Worst Ones digs deep into the successful French filmmaking trend of casting non-actors or street performers for roles in films that mimic the person’s real-life stories. In this film, the cast/characters are troubled children and teens from an impoverished housing tenement in the town of Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France.
A Belgian indie filmmaker, Gabriel, played by Johan Heldenbergh, is making a feature film debut entitled Pissing in the North Wind, for which he and his production crew are auditioning community kids to cast the most unexpected and troubled to play the film’s characters. Nobody in the community quite understands what he is doing or why — not even those who are chosen to perform.
While watching the film, one doesn’t quite know where acting takes over and real life begins and ends. The film is a slippery tightrope, a satire on the ethics of hiring practices in the film industry when it comes to casting real people, especially children. Throughout the film, we meet juveniles who are in their real lives abused, bullied, and ostracized by their peers and suffer neglect from their own parents and families and who are then cast to recreate the highly triggering and emotional moments of their lives on a movie set that doesn’t always follow the proper guidelines and workplace protocols. There are no counselors or social workers on this fictitious set to monitor and guide staged meetings happening between children and their mothers who’ve given up custody. There are no protocols followed during the shooting of an intimate scene with the teens — that results in the young male feeling uncomfortable with a gay film crew member and the young girl falling in love with an older member of the crew, only to have her heart broken and to be ‘slut shamed’ at the end of the film.
The Worst Ones is a film within a film that is layered with highly charged emotional characters that consistently challenge you look deeper into the narrative to try to determine what is real and what is for the camera. While The Worst Ones pokes the bear at an industry that flourishes with non-actors, you are constantly questioning the filmmakers and what support they provided, if any, to the “actors” themselves. Your heart will go out to the young cast including Timéo Mahaut as Ryan, and Mallory Wanecque who co-stars as Lily, his pregnant sister. They both seem like acting veterans but then you’re quickly reminded of the anguish that this young cast actually endures in real life. There are controversial issues to consider. The Worst Ones is beautifully shot and edited and is without a doubt thought provoking, but what is the emotional price paid on this ‘real’ set and others like it? That is the more complex question.