It’s the age old formula: boy loves girl, girl loves boy, girl runs away on her wedding day to be with the boy she loves. In Geronimo, the new addition to the formula is the fact that the girl’s family is furious and out to find her so they can kill her for dishonouring the family.
A former troubled youth herself, social worker Geronimo practices that rare sort of love that is both tough and understanding at the same time. When the kids threaten to fight her, she isn’t afraid to fight them back if necessary, but first and foremost, her goal is to teach them to deal with problems in passive ways. She’s well-known around the community including by the families of the two lovebirds who have escaped into hiding. Geronimo has seen all these kids grow up, seen some of them be sent to jail and kept many others from following the same path. She knows their personalities better than they sometimes know themselves.
Sixteen-year-old, Nil, the teenage bride of Turkish origin who was betrothed to a man much older than her, runs away on her wedding day to meet with her love, Lucky, who belongs to the family of gypsies. Nil’s perceived dishonour makes her family not only target her, but creates tension between them and Lucky’s family. The tension rises and is illustrated in musical battles between the two clans which reminds you of a modern day West Side Story.
Leaving aside the still very relevant problem of honour killings and childhood betrothals, which happen worldwide including in countries as developed and modern as France, we focus on Geronimo, the real star of this film. Here is a woman who tirelessly works to maintain peace while still favouring what is right. Though she can fight well and bravely, her real weapons are her words. She talks these kids into serenity, even if it’s temporary. She grapples with her own demons and insecurities, but they are secondary to the far scarier and more real demons that the children of these broken homes live to face on a daily basis. And Céline Sallette is remarkable as Geronimo. You’ll be unable to take your eyes off her and will be forever in awe of her actions, which are always selfless and brave.
Taking place in the south of France near the French-Spanish border, Geronimo utilizes the rare, creative mix of French, Spanish and Turkish cultures, be it in language, in song, in dance, or in lifestyle. The film will leave you tense and sad, but in a way that’s necessary because it’s the sort of sadness that comes with knowing previously unknown truths about this world.
Sarah is covering the Cinéfranco International Film Festival, which runs from April 10 to 19 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto. See more coverage here.