‘Young Tiger’ (‘Bebe Tigre’): Film Review
Director Cyprien Vial makes his feature debut with this story set in Paris’ Sikh community.
Focusing his camera on a seldom-seen part of the multiethnic enclaves surrounding Paris, writer-director Cyprien Vial offers up a compelling debut feature with his coming-of-age immigrant drama Young Tiger (Bebe Tigre). Reminiscent of the Dardenne brothers' The Silence of Lorna in its portrayal of an illegal alien caught between economic necessities and moral ambiguities, this authentic if not entirely groundbreaking exercise could garner art house interest outside of France, especially for newcomer Harmandeep Palminder’s touching lead performance.
Set among an insular network of Sikhs based in the Seine-Saint-Denis banlieue of Paris, the film provides a realistic snapshot of a community that rarely makes local headlines, and whose members can mostly be seen engaging in illicit manual labor.
This is the hope for 15-year-old Many (Palminder) when he first arrives in France, where he’s met by a smuggler, Kamal (Vikram Sharma), who’s been paid by Many’s parents in exchange for what’s basically a term of indentured servitude. But since he’s still a minor and cannot legally work, Many is cast off into the hands of a social worker, who is obligated under national law to find him a temporary home.
Two years later, Many has evolved into a quiet, slang-speaking high school student with good grades and a caring foster family. But his parents back in India — who are heard briefly through a few long-distance phone calls — only seem to want a return on their investment, demanding that their son wire them as much money as possible.
This sets Many off seeking black market employment at the hands of Kamal, who runs his own construction firm and hires the kid as his assistant. Forced to hide his new job from family and friends, including classmate and burgeoning love interest Elisabeth (Elisabeth Lando), Many finds himself growing up way too quickly as he tries to reconcile his desire to assimilate with his loyalty to the world he comes from.
Tracking our hero’s journey from clandestine outsider to integrated teenager to human trafficker, first-time feature director Vial provides a well-researched and, at times, gripping portrait of a young man scraping by on the fringes of French society. With scenes set inside a classroom filled with undocumented teens like Many, and others staged in a Sikh temple where workers socialize and try to find jobs, Young Tiger reveals a group of immigrants who are much less in the spotlight than their Arab and African counterparts — a tiny minority amongst other minorities.
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The film works best when it concentrates on such realistic details — with DP Pierre Cottereau (Bad Seeds) supplying lots of naturally lit, over-the-shoulder imagery — rather than when it relies on plot mechanics that can seem a bit predictable, especially in the third act. Yet Vial is smart enough to keep things limited to Many’s viewpoint and the camera forever glued to Many’s face, in a technique that feels far from original in the wake of the Dardennes but remains effective all the same.
Performances from a mostly amateur cast are strong throughout, with gifted non-actor Palminder channeling the predicament that Many — and many others like him — find themselves in, fighting to build a future but forever held back by their past.
Production companies: Dharamsala, Darius Films
Cast: Harmandeep Palminder, Vikram Sharma, Elisabeth Lando, Karim Leklou, Aurore Broutin, Gerard Zingg
Director-screenwriter: Cyprien Vial
Producers: Isabelle Madelaine, Emilie Tisne
Director of photography: Pierre Cottereau
Production designer: Sophie Reynaud-Malouf
Costume designer: Camille Assaf
Editor: Albertine Lastera
Casting director: Aurore Broutin
Sales: Films Distribution
No rating, 87 minutes