Admirers of Erick Zonca’s “The Dreamlife of Angels” will find similar virtues in the terse drama of “The Little Thief,” which doesn’t stray too far from prior pic’s terrain in observing a (male this time) protag’s awkward, sometimes harrowing suspension between adolescence and adulthood. Short running time is the major liability in export potential of what was originally commissioned as a telefilm.
Skinny, sullen S. (Nicolas Duvauchelle) hates his job as an apprentice baker in Orleans and is duly fired at pic’s outset; he brags to a bemused female friend about his vague plans never to endure such banal work again, then cruelly steals her paycheck money when she’s kind enough to let him sleep over.
Next we know, he’s fallen in with a ring of young thieves who hang out at a neighborhood boxing club, pulling house robberies and other middleweight crimes. S. isn’t nearly so tough as he’d like to be — a source of some comic mileage here — but he dutifully takes his orders, accepts low-rung tasks (cleaning house for the boss’s grandmother, chauffeuring his scary older brother) and wins some trust.
But S. isperhaps too eager to win acceptance, while not yet mature enough to make the right decisions under pressure. It takes only a couple of abrupt, disastrous turns of fate for his stock to sink like a rock. The “justice” meted out as a consequence is joltingly vivid, and its aftermath provides a somewhat blunt fadeout irony.
Pic might easily seem a simplistic morality fable, but Zonca refrains from judgment — the film sticks to S.’s often conflicted viewpoint, which is alternately childish, pseudo-macho and blinded by fear. Duvauchelle is effective , though some viewers may find his non-intimidating protag even more absurd as a would-be thug than Zonca intends. Numerous supporting roles are intriguingly written and confidently performed. Direction’s acuity of observation sometimes recalls Aki Kaurismaki’s sardonic minimalism, though it’s more self-effacing. Tech package is high-grade.