Mikhaël Hers’ Amanda begins with single mother Sandrine (Ophélia Kolb) explaining the phrase ‘Elvis has left the building’ to her 7-year-old daughter Amanda (Isaure Multrier). The payoff for this moment doesn’t come until the closing minutes of an often dreary film but it is this lingering saying, a mixture of melancholy and optimism, that clings to you long after Amanda finishes. The film, which deals in the mundane and extraordinary elements of parenting, races towards an ending that feels anything but expected, but utterly honest in how it takes every little moment, not just one, to form our memories and make a family.
Following David (Vincent Lacoste), a man in his 20s who is suddenly pushed into the role of parent to his 7-year-old niece when his sister Sandrine is senselessly killed. Working two jobs and trying to make something of a new relationship with Léna (Stacy Martin), a woman who lives in the building he looks after, David doesn’t know what he wants from life but those decisions become insignificant when he must decide why and if he should take care of Amanda full time.
Flowing quickly from one moment to the next, living up to the constant and continuous momentum of parenting proves to be a double-edged sword, one that connects you to David’s struggles and triumphs but also makes it hard to take in the little moments that make it worth it, as Hers lens is often unsentimental and cold. While Anton Sanko’s score is a whimsical construction, it knowingly subsides during moments of distress and quietly important turning points in Amanda and David’s relationship, it can’t help fight against the feeling of being a witness to daily minutiae.
Hers decision to spend almost a whole third of his film connecting you to Sandrine ensures that once she is gone, you see glimpses of her in not just Amanda but David, desperately seeking to live up to the memory of her. While returning to how things were before is impossible, David’s route to recovery is delicately handled, not just through the use of quiet Parisian streets but the memory of very real moments in French history. Although alluded to, the Parisian terror attack of 2015 is never exploited but instead used to provide a vital sense of empathy.
But the real strength within not only Hers characters but his film is the way it handles understanding. At first, there is a distance and disconnect between David and Amanda, a lack of connection that slowly, often imperceptibly remedies. The way Hers understands Amanda’s inquisitive nature but knows how to connect her to weighty themes despite not really understanding them is truly remarkable. Multrier in her limited screentime embraces a hidden optimism at Amanda’s core that raises the films from the depths of depression.
While David might be stuck in a world where bad things happen, and it is hard to think that they won’t continue to, Amanda and Hers see differently. Our lives are a mixture of old memories, new experiences and the constant struggle of living, one that is well worth the time and effort. While Elvis might have left the building, it is his memory and what we do with it that really counts.