First Hit: This was a well-done film, and it’s Elle Fanning’s performance that seals the deal.
Although the formula for this story is well known it works because of the performances of the actors, the cinematography, and singing by Fanning.
A poor polish girl Violette Valenski (Fanning) living on the Isle of Wight with her mom Maria (Agnieszka Grochowska) in a big farmhouse. They work the farm, both work at jobs in restaurants, and Violette also goes to school.
They are poor, and they need all the money they can make. Both are sad, unhappy, and driven people. Violette’s father left them, and the two women are doing everything they can to keep the farm and survive. They are hanging on by a thread. The father left because Maria was unfaithful to him. They’ve not heard from him in many years. The story makes it seem that Maria is hopeful he’ll return, someday.
Violette is shown in scenes where she sings while listening to her iPod, in her bedroom, in the fields, and in the school church choir. We also see scenes of her dancing her heart out — privately. There is a scene with her singing at an open mic in a pub with maybe 4 people sitting, talking and paying no attention to her except one, an old bearded man named Vlad (Zlatko Buric). But it is us, the audience, that hears the beauty of her heart’s singing voice. Vlad, hears it as well and goes up and tells her that he thinks she sings really well.
She hears and then sees a poster about a contest called Teen Spirit. In this contest, the winner gets a record contract. She wants this and has no confidence in her ability to make it happen. When she talks with Vlad about this, he tells her he will help her but will require her to let him manage her for 50% if she wins. What makes this drunken man someone she can trust; he tells her he was an opera singer but took a wrong turn along the way.
Violette needs an adult to go with her to the auditions and Vlad agrees. When he signs the form as her guardian, the young man at the desk recognizes his name as his parent’s favorite opera singer. Watching the trust between the two building is beautiful.
The rest of the film is about Vlad teaching her how to sing, Violette trusting him and herself while putting herself out there in front of audiences. There are a few scenes with a record producer Jules (Rebecca Hall) attempting to sway Violette to sign a contract with her company before the finals.
I really loved the shot when Violette was called on to her final performance on the Teen Spirit stage, the walk from her dressing room to the stage was incredibly beautiful. The starkness of the halls, the red dress she was wearing, her nervous eyes and turned down lips, flashes of her mom and the congregation watching the program on television, flashes of Vlad standing there, excellent.
Everything was effectively created in the early part of the film so that when it comes together, she lets go and sings from her whole body and spirit. It is a fantastic performance.
Fanning was exquisite. I loved how she showed her sullen sad behavior and letting the volcano slowly build only to make it all erupt in the final singing stage. Buric was great. He was both a little scary and like Violette said at one point, a big teddy bear. His conversation with Maria about helping Violette was joyful and engaging. Grochowska was fantastic as Maria, the concern protective mother. Her joy at watching her daughter sing in the finals brought tears to my eyes. Hall was strong as the record agent putting the pressure on to make a deal before the finals. Max Minghella wrote and directed a wonderfully insightful movie. Some of the shots and the edits between all Violette’s been through were fantastic.
Overall: This was a very inspirational film, and the excellent acting put it as one of the better this year, so far.