I quite liked Amanda although I'm afraid that I found it to occasionally be a little bit too blunt on the subject of grief. Some of the discussions of responsibility to Amanda (especially the visit to the Children's Home that could potentially take Amanda in, but with conditions) felt a little unnecessary, but I suppose it was to enable the film to explore all options and let David work through his ambivalence towards taking on Amanda full time. There were also quite a lot of scenes of other people talking to David and giving him the opportunity to open up about his feelings, which perhaps might reflect more on my personal reaction as a grumpily cynical and hard-hearted member of the audience in not being able to particularly buy those situations as naturally arising and therefore feeling a bit of a clunky way to allow the main character to speak about his feelings directly (if I had the choice I would much prefer a complete to camera fourth-wall breaking interrogation scene such as those that you find in Godard!); although whilst I did feel that the set ups of those moments were a little too obvious I did like that the scene where David breaks down talking to his friend Axel contrasts interestingly against David immediately closing down the discussion with the journalist, especially when Amanda is brought up as being a good angle for being an emotive hook for the story that would capture readers. I would like to think that the film is recognising that it is doing exactly the same thing as that journalist is doing, although I have my suspicions that it thinks it is being a bit more profound than that. Which I am not sure that I can entirely buy into.
I'll spoiler tag everything else:
I did very much like the relatively discreet way that the terror attack in the park was portrayed, although for the brief moments of David seeming edgy after the attack everyone is soon out and about wandering ceaselessly back and forth through the streets again as if nothing ever happened (but I did really like David's moment of grief being entirely expressed through sniffing back tears as he waits for Amanda to wake up and break the news to her. That was far more impactful than any of his tearful breakdowns later on). Maybe that is the only way people know how to deal with things, by just going on and trying to forget about it (and I did like that we start getting more shots of armed gendarmes in the couple of scenes post-attack, before the film rather forgets about that angle. Interestingly the whole 'terror' angle is played up more pre-attack as a kind of suspense thing, with the bars of the school gates looking like a kind of a fortress, and the bag searches David goes through. I think there is a scene later on of David having to go through a metal detector a couple of times on the trip to the crazy golf park, but that is about it for later in the film. It is almost as though it is more tense before anything has happened to warrant it, and that having to go through a situation is in strange ways a kind of relieving release, for all of the grief it brings), but I did think it was rather strange that it becomes much more of a family drama story than being too interested in exploring the effect of terrorism on the wider society. I think I may have just wanted a film that went external rather than internal however, so I cannot be too harsh on it being something that it is not... and of course an internal family drama is a particularly French style of filmmaking so it was rather inevitable that it would be the approach that a French film would take towards this subject matter!
That however was something that made Stacy Martin's brief scenes all the more impactful as whilst that character seems sidelined by the film (or perhaps more accurately her character sidelines herself from David's story), she is the only character who seems as if they have ongoing issues related to the terror attack beyond grief at losing a loved one (suggesting that this is not a film about terrorism exactly but it could be grief at a child losing a parent however it may happen. Its all traumatic and inexplicable, if not usually quite as sudden in its impact), especially in the moment of Léna being startled by the firecrackers and the pointed injury to her arm that is pretty much implied to have completely destroyed her piano teaching career (instead we see her after that working in a record store, slowly grappling with stacks of records of music created by others, instead of being able to create her own compositions anymore).
... yet I kind of have issues with whether we really needed that rather explicit sex scene. I guess it is nice to consumate the relationship and show that the two characters are fully committing to each other (and can maybe share in Amanda's upbringing, helping David to not have to do it alone), but I think we could have gotten that message across in a better way than just breast suckling. Especially when its the only explicit moment in the entire film. But then again its a French film, so I suppose that rampant bonking was inevitable at some point!
Although maybe the jarring aspect of the sex scene is meant to intentionally bookendingly contrast to the similarly jarring nature of the aftermath of the attack in the park. The couple would have made love sooner if they had not been thrown off course by unexpected events, and it takes the entire film for them to tentatively reconnect again, with the sex scene the, blunt, act of almost defiance of continued life in the face of random death? And that completes David's character arc going from grief and ambivalence towards re-engagement and commitment with others.
But while I felt there were some clunky moments there were some absolutely amazing moments as well, when some of the more schematic moments of 'plot and characterisation' stopped and we get to the heart of the matter. Particularly:
- the moment of running into Lydia, the friend oblivious as to Sandrine's death and then that moment of her leaving and David making the decision to chase after her to give her the bad news rather than letting her live in ignorance (or worse find out that he never told her if she finds out from someone else, similar to the way that their mother in England found out about their father's death), with that conversation taking place in long shot where we only see the moment of her reaction as we hear the fluttering passing of birds on the soundtrack (I also heartily second the other two moments that domino highlighted, particularly that we never find out what comes of Ivan's letter: I was worried that David was going to tear it up as with his mother's letter, but maybe not seeing him do that is a suggestion that he has grown as a person)
- that beautiful moment of the departed to the countryside girlfriend Léna's image superimposed over footage of trains entering and leaving the station while we hear the content of her letter, which inspires David to go to her
- the final shot of the crowds 'reclaiming' the park, and by implication the rest of the public spaces, suggesting that the empty streets might not be forever. Which of course hits even harder during a pandemic!
I also really liked the way that David's job of moving in and out interchangeable tenants gets both used in the opening section of the film to add to the 'multicultural' angle of the film (the world that is threatened with being overwhelmed by fear and PTSD post-attack), but mostly later on the way that taking furniture and throwing it away starts to hit home with the loss of Léna and the similar issues over David throwing away Sandrine's toiletries which so upsets Amanda. Amanda being so upset by that is a relatively low key suggestion that she is still processing the loss of her mother and needs to let go in her own time rather than having it forced, whilst David wants to throw everything away to forget about it. This actually reminds me a lot of what happened when my mother died a few years back: my father made arrangements with some of his friends to have them pick up a lot of my mother's books without telling me he was doing so (he just wanted rid of them), so I lost quite a few connections with my mother that way. The objects themselves don't mean anything but some people need to let go in their own way, if they ever do.
Which is really the point of the final scene at Wimbledon, which I both think is a bit too on the nose yet still very touching simultaneously, because that trip to see their estranged English mother and to go to Wimbledon was the last thing that Sandrine ever planned to do. David himself, seemingly without thinking about it, confirms his commitment to Amanda more than anything else by reconnecting with his mother when he otherwise never would have done so (therefore Amanda has helped him. He also shares cycling with Amanda, each on their own bike) and then whilst David does not understand why Amanda breaks into tears during the Wimbledon match, the audience is well aware that Amanda has had a year of being under her mother's 'protection' or 'influence' in a way with that planned trip, and now the mother's connection to the daughter from beyond the grave is completely ended and Amanda has no more contact with her and will have to continue on in the world by herself now (which in another personal aside reminded me of finding that my mother had left her supermarket points card after she had passed on, and whilst of course it was never intended as such, I did like to think that it was as if she was providing a last little gift to keep things going until I was up to speed with taking over her role with the shopping myself). However there has been that year of transition that has allowed Amanda to process and come to terms with David as her new guardian, and vice versa of David having Amanda as his responsibility. That also makes the final Elvis-allusion with the opening chords of the end credits song work really well, as Sandrine has only truly 'left the building' after that tennis match she had bought the tickets for ends.