The Son of the SharkWhile I’m no social worker – films that focus on troubled youth have always attracted my interest. More often than not, films that deal with juvenile delinquency are told in a manner that ,while plausible, generally lack credulity.

When youth is concerned, viewers expect an enlightening story with a moral lesson to be learned: learning from mistakes, shaping character.  After all,  isn’t this what the Coming-of-Age genre in cinema is all about?!?

While attempting to shape the perfect educational, entertaining or dramatic narrative, most filmmakers fail to portray an essential part of life – the reality. Inspired by a true story, French director Agnès Merlet succeeds in capturing the essence of troubled childhood – not missing a single ingredient – from innocence, dreams and confusion to sexuality and cruelty.

The Son of the Shark (original title: Le fils du requin) follows the harsh life and adventures of two 10-year-old brothers through their rebellion against society, with all its norms and expectations. Retaining objectivity, detachment and judgment is what the viewer is challenged to do.  Many would fail to meet that challenge.

Ludovic Vandendaele and Eric Da Silva in The Son of the Shark
Ludovic Vandendaele and Eric Da Silva in The Son of the Shark

In a narrative filled with a struggle for survival, violence, obscenity and petty crimes – friendship, love and humanity still blossom, although they may seem like unlikely motifs to some viewers.While in many movies the young protagonists are placed in a passive role, reacting to what’s happening without any chance of choice or control, the brothers in The Son of the Shark struggle to retain control over their own fate – even if that means involvement in activities that society finds unacceptable or even illegal.  The Son of the Shark makes an important point: childhood innocence is a concept that adults have shaped and defined, but is not necessarily an intrinsic and natural part of childhood itself.

Robert Thompson and Jon Venables
This image of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables was released by UK police

Many of the scenes in the film may come as a shock to some viewers. Juvenile delinquency is not an easy subject to address. Intriguingly, I found a resemblance in the way the actors looked upon booking and a actual mug shot of two boys in the UK who were convicted at a serious crime at the age of ten in 1993 (they remained in custody for over 20 years).  See picture at left

Knowing that what the boys were doing was wrong – as I viewed the film I was still rooting for them; perhaps because I was able to see how fragile they were behind their projected toughness.

Cinematically, the film has a neo-realistic stylization. Agnès Merlet manages to explore the inner world of her protagonists by focusing on their thoughts, fantasies and motivations.  Frequently the viewers are addressed directly by the one of the boys – making his story even more poignant – like a confession. The natural performances of Ludovic Vandendaele and Eric Da Silva in the lead roles leaves little to be desired. The film’s soundtrack was composed by Bruno Coulais (who also worked on another French Coming-of-Age masterpiece Les Choristes (2004). The music enhances the strong, grimy narrative – revealing on its own yet another side of the psychology of the young protagonists.

A Clip from The Son of the Shark

The Son of the Shark doesn’t feature clichéd situations and doesn’t provide easy solutions.  It leaves the viewer to observe and reflect on the events and happenings. The humor of Neil Jordan’s 1997 Irish tragicomic drama The Butcher Boy is replaced with symbolism and fantasy by Agnès Merlet.

While most young viewers would enjoy the mischief of the two protagonists, after watching the Son of the Shark I would hesitate to recommend it for young audiences, even if youngsters would be the ones who would be able to watch the film in its entirety without passing any judgment.  It’s a task I admit that in the end I also failed at.

Film title: The Son of the Shark
Also known as: Le fils du requin
Release year: 1993
Director: Agnès Merlet
Cast: Ludovic Vandendaele, Eric Da Silva, Sandrine Blancke, Maxime Leroux, Yolande Moreau and others


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