Offered a chance to get prisoners involved in drama, Étienne (Kad Merad), an actor out of work and no longer dreaming of big things, at first thinks he has met his match in the apathy, cynicism, and drug addictions of the only three prisoners to turn up. But Étienne’s predecessor had offered nothing more stimulating to work with than simple children’s stories with “morals” made plain: Aesop’s Fables. Realising that they need something that they can relate to, Étienne challenges his now five students to learn and rehearse a work offering many difficulties: Samuel Beckett’s “absurdist” play Waiting for Godot. Eventually persuading the chief warder, Ariane (Marina Hands), to seek the extraordinary concessions it will require, and his friend Stéphane (Laurent Stocker) to make his theatre available, Étienne finds he has more at stake than his students do to make a success of it.
The Big Hit makes great play of the eventual staging of Waiting for Godot and the effects of the prisoners’ efforts on themselves, their warders, their judges, and Étienne. But the film is about this less than it is about the power of encouragement and demonstrations of faith to revitalise lives that grief, ennui, and hopelessness had come to dominate. As well as depth of feeling, The Big Hit offers a good deal of clever comedy. And it manages all this with subtlety, lightheartedness, and great pacing.
A feel-good movie with broad audience appeal, Emmanuel Courcol’s The Big Hit is sure to be a festival big hit, one to laugh over later as well as to appreciate for its humane depiction of the difficulties that can land people in prison and those that follow them in there. And who knew that Waiting for Godot could be so captivating?
Screening at Palace cinemas.
— JOHN P. HARVEY