There’s something to be said for the sure-fire, the cliché, the formulaic, the tried-and-tested – sometimes a French run-of-the-mill coming-of-age-wish-fulfilment-fantasy just does the trick without being extraordinary nor ground-breaking.
In Her Hands has an instantly recognisable narrative structure, though it is based on a fairly bizarre premise. Matthieu (Jules Benchetrit) is a young man from a poorer arrondissement in Paris who’s mixed up with a bad crowd, and through which he gets involved in small-time crime. One day, while running from security in a Parisian train station, he pauses at a piano to play Bach’s Prelude in C Minor, a performance which stuns the director (Lambert Wilson) of a prestigious conservatoire who happened to be also passing through.
When Matthieu is later arrested for burglary and sentenced to prison, the director intervenes, commuting his sentence to community service at – you guessed it (or did you not? I’d be impressed) – the conservatoire, so he can sneakily have Matthieu tutored by a formidable piano tutor, the Countess (Kristin Scott Thomas), and have him entered into a piano grand prix that would put the conservatoire back on the map.
Also, he falls in love. Phew.
You see it now, though: the plot of a talented youngster who has to juggle the strains of adolescence with the desire to rise to the pinnacle of their field is familiar (think Whiplash and sports anime), but the set-up does require some head-scratching and suspension of belief.
Of course both the bizarre set-up and its paint-by-numbers plot are a lovely fantasy to indulge in – being noticed for your talent and almost unwillingly carted off to an elite institution offers a delightful fantasy of the redemptive power of creative talent.
The zero-to-hero story is filled with some familiar yet delightful tropes. For example, the scene in which Matthieu starts playing at the conservatoire alone (he just can’t help playing on this beautiful instrument) and the director arrives unseen, touched by the spontaneous outpouring of passionate emotion like the observer of a Shakespeare soliloquy, is a classic scene. Meanwhile, the Countess isn’t quite Terence Fletcher, but she does effectively scoff at how impossible the Rachmaninov picked out for the competition will be to play – it occupies a similar role in the narrative to the eponymous song in Whiplash.
The romance aspect between Matthieu and fellow pupil Anna is half-baked (just as much as is necessary for a teen/coming-of-age film) but genuinely sweet: it is set in Paris, after all. Imagine doing a Viennese Waltz to ‘At Last’ on a bridge in Paris and you’ll understand the vibe, because it actually happens, and it’s delightful.
All in all, In Her Hands is an enjoyable but questionable fantasy which doesn’t push many boundaries but will probably leave you feeling warm and fuzzy.
In Her Hands/ Au bout des doigts releases on Curzon Home Cinema July 10th.