Hot Docs

A French Youth Review: Migrants Take the Bull by the Horns

Hot Docs 2024

4 mins read

A French Youth
(Canada/France, 84 min.)
Dir. Jérémie Battaglia
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (World premiere)


Audiences might traditionally associate the running of the bulls with Spanish culture. However, bullfighting provides ample entertainment value in Carmague, a picturesque area of wetlands in the south of France. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean, the region also offers a landing point for migrants and refugees who cross the sea from North Africa. Faced with relatively limited work opportunities and financial prospects upon arrival, risking their lives for sport offers a chance for men to gamble in the arena for the European dream.

A French Youth follows a handful of migrants putting themselves in harm’s way with the bulls. They include Jawad Bakloul, Belka Benhammou, and Tito Sanchez. The men are among a troupe of matador-esque runners who tango with the bulls to the delight of French spectators. One difference between the Camargue fashion of bullfighting and the Spanish tradition is that the competitors don’t kill the bulls. Rather, they outmanoeuvre the animals and defeat the bulls by evading them and wearing them out.

Director Jérémie Battaglia, who also shot the film, captures the bullfights with tense immediacy. The risks are real as the fighters receive painful blows from the bulls’ horns. The bulls’ don’t risk death in the ring, but the men do. A French Youth sees several of its protagonists’ pierced by the bulls, which results in varying degrees of injury. A blow by the bull, however, brings more than physical pain. It’s a setback to one’s financial security, since performing in the ring offers no job security. All the runners can do is wait to heal and jump back in before the season ends.

Outside the ring, Battaglia finds better drama in the stories of men like Jawad and Belka. The bullfighters have families to consider each time the bull sets its sights on them. For Jawad, a brush with the bull leaves him re-considering his future, while Belka feels compelled to live up to the bar set by his father, who also tangoed with bulls in the ring.

The plights are similar, though. They speak to the experiences and opportunities of immigrants in a country that preaches an official multiculturalism policy, but remains suspicious of new citizens. Moreover, they encounter racism and prejudice both casual and overt in the seemingly idyllic countryside. The French spectators, meanwhile, are clearly rooting for the bulls. Battaglia’s camera captures some plum commentary from the bleachers as onlookers grumble when the bulls fail to shake up the runners. The film sees the plight of the bullfighters in the arena as an effective metaphor for the conflict that migrants face in larger culture.

Beautifully shot and featuring intimate access with a small cadre of characters, A French Youth offers an effective microcosm for battles playing out in arenas of all kinds worldwide.

A French Youth premiered at Hot Docs 2024.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

Previous Story

Le Mans 55: The Unauthorized Investigation Review – A Racetrack Cold Case

Next Story

This Land of Ours, Arrest the Midwife Top Hot Docs Forum Winners

Latest from Blog

0 $0.00