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Heartstrings (Le Coeur en braille) is a French film screening at this year’s TIFF Kids International Film Festival. Directed and co-written by Michel Boujenah, perhaps best known for his acting work in French films and on TV, Heartstrings tells the story of two preteens who develop a deep friendship.

Marie (Alix Vaillot) is a high-achieving 12-year-old student with little need of friends. She dreams of being a professional cellist and has an upcoming audition to a prestigious music school, except her parents, particularly her father, don’t want her to audition. Marie, it turns out, has a genetic disease that is slowly robbing her of her sight. Strong willed and stubborn, she successfully fools her parents into thinking her blurry vision isn’t so bad. Only it is. So as a last resort, she turns to Victor (Jean-Stan du Pac), a lacklustre student with plenty of friends and a secret music dream of his own (he and his friends play music in Victor’s dad’s auto shop). Using Victor, she tutors him so he’ll read their homework to her. When he discovers the real reason she’s tutoring him, he’s initially hurt but slowly becomes her protector, guiding her through the streets of the city and guarding her secret so she can attend her audition.

Heartstrings is a cute, sentimental exploration of friendship during the awkward preteen years. It’s not really a romance, despite the fact that Victor clearly finds Marie cute and asks his friends for romantic advice. It’s really a film about emotional maturity, for Marie, having isolated herself from her peers, is clearly surprised that she is capable of forming a deep friendship; and Victor develops an almost parental role. Scenes include Victor pulling Marie from oncoming traffic and involving Marie in a game of basketball to mask her deteriorating eye sight. And a scene towards the end of the film, in which Marie and Victor run away and hide out is a demonstration of their deep commitment to each other.

The film will no doubt resonate with preteens coming to grips with their own developing emotional maturity. The film offers a straightforward narrative arc void of the unnecessary sidetracks that can often destroy many kid and teen films. And because it treats its audience with respect, adults will also find the film an enjoyable experience. And that’s a good thing. A  complex, intelligent film for a kids and adults alike can be a hard find.