Saturday, June 22, 2024

“THE MARCHING BAND”

THE STORY – Thibaut is an internationally renowned conductor who travels the world. When he learns he was adopted, he discovers the existence of a younger brother, Jimmy, who works in a cafeteria and plays the trombone in a small marching band. Everything seems to set them apart, except their love of music. Sensing his brother’s exceptional talent, Thibaut decides to remedy the injustice of fate. Jimmy begins to dream of a different life.

THE CAST – Benjamin Lavernhe, Pierre Lottin & Sarah Suco

THE TEAM – Emmanuel Courcol (Director/Writer) & Irène Muscari (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 103 Minutes


“The Marching Band” is an old-fashioned tearjerker that asks large questions about identity and destiny through music. How choices are made for us in childhood are given an unusually sharp contrast here, combined with three excellent lead performances and the love of music at the story’s center. Anyone can listen to a song and play an instrument, but talent is not even half the battle if you want to do it for a living. It’s that difficulty of making a living that “The Marching Band” never forgets, making this an excellent depiction of talent and community.

Thibaut (Benjamin Lavernhe, who made an equally strong impression in last year’s Cannes opener “Jeanne du Barry“) is a world-famous and constantly traveling conductor and composer, and the day he collapses at work, he happens to be in Paris. It turns out that he has leukemia and needs an immediate bone marrow transplant, but luckily, he has a sister who’s probably compatible. Except that she isn’t, which is how Thibaut learns, at age 37, that not only was he adopted, but also that he has a full sibling who his parents chose not to adopt when their birth mother died. That brother is Jimmy (Pierre Lottin, whose less showy work here shouldn’t be overlooked), who works in the cafeteria of a colliery and is blindsided by the news not just that he has an older brother but that his brother is rich. But Jimmy’s a good guy who takes little convincing to help; his bone marrow is compatible, and the transplant is a complete success, putting Thibaut in remission. When he comes back to deliver the good news and his thanks in person, he learns not only that Jimmy is a vinyl enthusiast with perfect pitch but also that he plays the trombone in the colliery marching band.

On the surface, the brothers are quite different, starting with their names, which are as far apart on the class spectrum as can be. Thibaut lives out of a suitcase and spends his spare time being chauffeured from job to job while composing on his iPad. He’s a chatty, friendly person, but the main people he speaks to are the musicians in his orchestras or his students – in other words, all people who depend on him for their livelihoods, so it can get pretty lonely for him. By contrast, Jimmy is a big part of his raucous small-town community, where everyone knows everyone else’s business so thoroughly that Jimmy keeps his mouth shut. He repairs things in his spare time and occasionally hangs out with fellow band member Sabrina (Sarah Suco), a single mother with a couple of rowdy brothers (one of whom has Down’s syndrome), for which she is also responsible. The factory at the center of the town is under threat of closure, too, meaning that the workers have been barricading the factory to try to save their jobs for months, and Jimmy sneaking leftover food to the picket lines is putting his own job (€11 an hour, despite all his seniority) at risk. He doesn’t mind the risk, though, since if life has taught him one thing, it’s only his mother who really cares about him. Meanwhile, Thibaut is the center of focus in every room he enters, which is exhausting in the opposite way.

Thibaut begins to encourage Jimmy’s musicianship, starting with gentle coaching so he can replace the band’s conductor, who must move to Romania for work. He also sends Jimmy a high-end trombone to thank him for his marrow and offers to conduct a fundraising concert to help save the factory. But, while Jimmy is happy to talk shop with Thibaut, he resents every minor implication of Thibaut’s gilded childhood and career success. When they look at each other, the different chances life has given them are very hard not to see (The movie’s refusal to forgive Thibaut’s parents for their choice to separate the boys is admirable, as is the choice not to overdo it, as it’s a wrong that can never be made right). It slowly becomes clear, first to everybody else and then to them, how badly Jimmy and Thibaut need each other – maybe how badly they’ve always needed each other without knowing it. But life is complicated, and people don’t always behave perfectly. Thibaut’s a snob, and Jimmy’s touchy, so their conversations often unintentionally end up as arguments. And it all builds to a finale, an incredible act of love that had the entire Cannes audience sobbing their hearts out.

Director Emmanuel Courcol, who co-wrote the script with Irène Muscari, knows precisely how hard to press the points, and the physical resemblance Mr. Lavernhe and Mr. Lottin have to each other does a lot of heavy lifting. They are believable both as brothers and musicians, which lends “The Marching Band” an air of authenticity that similar movies need to work much harder to achieve. This is not a movie that reinvents the wheel, but it’s solid entertainment that provides much to think about and some delightful music.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - The shameless, but well-earned, tear jerking, music, and central performances.

THE BAD - It won’t win any prizes for originality.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best International Feature

THE FINAL SCORE - 8/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>The shameless, but well-earned, tear jerking, music, and central performances.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>It won’t win any prizes for originality.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-international-feature/">Best International Feature</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>8/10<br><br>"THE MARCHING BAND"