★★★★☆

Mikhaël Hers’ sensitive, heartfelt third feature Amanda is about loss and bereavement in the aftermath of a brutal terrorist attack in a Paris park. David (Vincent Lacoste), twenty-four, loses his sister Sandrine (Ophélia Kolb) and has to decide whether he can take on the care of her seven-year-old daughter, Amanda (Isaure Multrier).

The film opens with David arriving late to pick up Amanda for his sister, a single mum and harassed English teacher. Sandrine berates her brother for leaving her child alone on the school steps but we can tell they are a close family. A few scenes later David and Sandrine are cycling through picturesque Paris, teasing each other like young lovers. David has not yet found a definitive career – he works for a property owner, meeting tourists and tenants, and prunes trees for the local parks. One tenant, who takes up residence in his apartment block, is Léna (Stacy Martin), a shy piano teacher from Bordeaux who David immediately falls for.

The first thirty minutes is made up of these modest scenes showing an ordinary Parisian family getting by. Sandrine dances with Amanda to Elvis, David asks Léna for a date, Sandrine buys David, a former tennis player, tickets for Wimbledon. We learn that their estranged mother, Alison (Greta Scacchi), lives in London. Sandrine wants to meet her, David does not, but that’s the only hint of conflict in their genial lives. This idyll is shattered one sunny afternoon. Sandrine, David and Léna have arranged to meet friends for a picnic in the park. David arrives late, as usual, to a scene of surreal mayhem. Sébastien Buchmann’s camera pans over a park full of bloodied bodies, survivors bent over them weeping. Léna is injured in hospital, Sandrine is dead.

David has to break the news of her mother’s death to Amanda and offer what comfort he can, while also grieving. Amanda has no one left to bring her up except David but he feels out of his depth. Léna, damaged in the attack and unsure if she will regain the use of her right arm, decides to leave Paris and returns to the country to live with her mother. The heart of Hers’ screenplay, co-written with Maud Ameline, focuses on Amanda and David as they attempt to pick up the pieces, bond, and resume a normal life. It’s also a poignant study in grief and its various stages. Amanda is by turn disbelieving, angry, and inconsolable. Her anguish is captured in small moments – a scene where Amanda rebukes David for removing her mother’s toothbrush is particularly moving. The camera frequently lingers on Multrier who, in an extraordinary performance, wears her heart on her sleeve.

Amanda begins in Paris and ends in London – reminding us how both cities have witnessed similar atrocities. While journalists tend to focus on the lives of terrorists and what leads them to commit such atrocities, Hers follows the victims of a fictionalised attack and the struggle to rebuild broken lives. The film celebrates the hope and resilience of children as Amanda finds a fragile peace and learns how to laugh again. Hers delivers a hard lesson about the healing power of love and acceptance with simple and unsentimental eloquence.

Lucy Popescu | @lucyjpop