French Film ‘Vandal’ Delves into the World of Graffiti Artists

Gabriella Tutino


French film Vandal is a coming-of-age story focused on a young boy who finds his place in the graffiti-tagging scene. The film, by Helier Cisterne, relies heavily on scenes filled with tension and bursts of action; it is quiet and dramatic, but it misses the emotional mark, even with its revealing ending.

Cherif (Zinedine Benchenine) is a thrillseeking juvenile delinquent—our introduction to him is driving circles in an apparently stolen car. A meeting with a judge reveals he has a record, and in an attempt to put the boy on the right path, his mother offers to send him to live with his aunt and uncle and attend vocational school.

Sent to Strasbourg, Cherif has to readjust as he takes up the construction trade, learns to live under his uncle’s rules, and works alongside his father. He’s in for a surprise when his cousin—a supposed goody-two shoes—brings him along to tag with his group Ork. Cherif’s initiation into the graffiti scene begins; he learns about a rival tagger, Vandal, who does his work on his own and at impressive heights. And although tagging is considered a criminal activity, Cherif has momentarily found some purpose—to find Vandal and maybe even surpass him—and a means of self-expression and comfort.



Vandal, of course, has all the themes integral to a coming-of-age young adult story: acceptance, self-identity, family problems and even love. Yet all of these are given a rather fair balance—there is no singular, overarching issue that trumps Cherif’s problems, but rather a fine blend. The result is rather dull and systematic in terms of emotional value. The fallouts and the fights are expected.

The crucial, and arguably the most exciting part of the film, is the confrontation chase scene with Vandal. Up until this moment, Cherif’s world view was focused only on himself. It is safe to say that he understands his actions indirectly affect others, but he is too closed off to let it affect him. The incident with Vandal changes this, and we see Cherif’s awareness and emotional fragility unfold for the rest of the movie, which culminates into that final scene, an act of atonement.

Overall, Vandal is well acted, but it is too closed off and too distant via the protagonist to offer an emotional connection past the surface.


Author Bio:

Gabriella Tutino is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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