What is it about the classical music world – populated mostly by people with sophisticated tastes and exacting standards – that so often inspires film-makers to make sentimental, middlebrow schlock? Does it spring from some patronising if well-intentioned desire to make high art available to consumers of lower-browed forms, such as cinema? Or is that too many movies about classical music are made by people who barely understand the milieu, the music, or institutions that nourish them?
Probably all of the above would explain this painfully programmatic twaddle about Mathieu, a sulky but high-cheek-boned kid from the Paris banlieues (Jules Benchetrit), who mostly hides his genius-level pianistic talent from his hood-rat friends and his family. However, his inability to resist tickling the ivories with some Bach on a public piano in the Gare du Nord catches the ear of Pierre Geithner (Lambert Wilson), the national conservatoire director.
In the first of a series of silly plot implausibilities, Geithner helps Mathieu stay out of jail by hooking him up with a janitorial job at said conservatoire, evoking the spectre of Good Will Hunting but with music instead of maths. Before long, Mathieu is taking lessons from an intimidating but immaculately coiffed piano teacher known only as the Countess (Kristin Scott Thomas), whose withering tongue disguises for her passion for music. But, of course, although she helps Mathieu perfect his technique, she can never match his passion – which makes him a true genius … or some nonsense like that.
Scott Thomas and Wilson add skilful shibori folds to this tissue-thin baloney, and almost succeed in making it bearable. Ultimately, however, the film’s greatest crime is wasting the talents of Karidja Touré, the intensely charismatic star of Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood, who gets lumbered with a standard-issue supportive-girlfriend part, compelling her to smile beatifically at all times over surly, dreary Mathieu. Despite being called In Your Hands in most countries outside France (the original title was Au Bout Des Doigts – At the End of the Fingers), the British title doesn’t make any sense, since none of the female characters’ agency is examined. Instead, it makes you wonder why a film couldn’t have been made about Touré’s character instead of another dull meditation on a young male “genius”.