IN YOUR HANDS/ A BOUT DES DOIGT, France, 2018. Starring Lambert Wilson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jules Benchetrit, Karidja Toure, Elsa Lepoivre. Directed by Ludovic Bernard. 104 minutes. Rated M (Coarse language)
A film about a very talented pianist, In Your Hands seems a reasonable title. However, as with many English versions of French titles, it seems to underestimate the nuances of the French. The nuance is an emphasis on fingertips rather than, simply, hands.
Being absorbed in music, that a pianist’s life is music alive in them, is the theme of the film. This is quite an emotional story and, one notes that several bloggers have dismissed the film as far too sentimental. Which is a reminder of the wise dictum of W. Somerset Maugham, that sentimentality is merely sentiment that one disapproves of! Most audiences will be caught up in the feelings, and the emotions. And the audience emotions are not simply nice feelings.
In fact, Mathieu (Jules Benchetrit), the young man whose story we are drawn into is not the most pleasant of characters, not easy to get on with. He has chips on his shoulder, to say the least, has grown up poor, his mother out cleaning to support three children, his getting mixed up with local gangs in Paris, involved in home invasions, arrested by the police, and seemingly, he couldn’t care less. Any hope for his future except more of the same?
However, we first see him at a busy railway station concourse playing the piano that has been made available for the public. He is intense, playing complex Bach orchestrations. We find one man, standing, looking, admiring. As it turns out, the man, Pierre, is the director of students at the Conservatoire de Paris. He is played by Lambert Wilson (who many will remember, with admiration, as the abbot in Of Gods and Men). He gives Mathieu his card who treats it with some disdain but, after his arrest, phones Pierre.
In many ways, this is a story of rehabilitation. Pierre arranges a deal, that Mathieu does community service cleaning the Conservatoire while attending music and theory lessons. Lessons are not in Mathieu’s life ambitions. He resists, is insulting, but forced to play his part in the deal. The best piano tutor, the English Miss Buckingham (Kristin Scott Thomas) sees his talent but tries to instil some discipline.
We know how the film is going to end, especially when Mathieu is entered into an international competition, but it is the steps which lead from resentment and lack of cooperation to ultimate success which the audience wants to follow. One of the steps is his attraction to a violinist who is studying the cello, Anna (Karinida Toure). It is the first time he has felt genuine affection for anyone except for the family his family to whom he is very close.
But, it is not mellowing in an instant, and there are further complications as the management of the institution train up another student just in case Mathieu opts out. There is also a complication which we learn rather late, Pierre and his wife (who have offered their visitors’ apartment for him to stay) having lost their son to leukaemia and the wife thinking that Mathieu is a substitute son whereas Pierre lives for music.
For music lovers, there are some performances of Bach, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody, and rehearsals performance of Rachmaninoff.
We are in admiration of the young actor, Jules Benchtretit, not so much for his performance (not too difficult to act as surly) but the deftness of his skills in performing hand and finger movements for the playing.
A film of humanity, recognition of giftedness, affirming difficult people, encouraging talent, forming bonds of affection and genuine love.
Umbrella Released 20th June
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.