Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 08, 2019 6:02 pm 
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Class of nowhere

You may recall François Ozon's In the House (R-V 2012): in which "A high school French teacher is drawn into a precocious student's increasingly transgressive story about his relationship with a friend's family." The victim was played by Fabrice Lucchini. Other French films about teachers with difficult students led to grief for these actors: François Bégaudeau in Entre les murs (2008), Isabelle Adjani in La journée de la jupe (2008) and Isabelle Huppert in Madame Hyde (2018).*

Well here is another one and it is a good one: Laurent Lafitte, an actor the French are taking a liking to (he's in another film in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, Paul Sanchez Is Back! ), in Sébastien Marnier's jazzy, beautiful, disturbing School's Out/L'Heure de la sortie. Pierre is a substitute called in temporarily to replace the French teacher of an exceptionally brilliant class of snotty élèves at the fancy St. Joseph school (have you ever seen classrooms as elegant as this?) when their regular prof has offed himself by jumping out the window. It doesn't take long for us to suspect that these students may have driven their prof to do himself in; may be fast on their way to driving Pierre in the same direction. They know how to put him down and ask impertinent, embarrassing questions. And give condescending answers. Kafka, who he's, at forty - isn't that old to be only a substitute? one asks - doing his late dissertation on? Yes of course they've all read him. They're doing next year's work. And they don't approach it that old way anymore.

They soon have Pierre following them and spying on them as they do peculiar, scary things to each other and carry out odd rituals: this suggests Hitchcock and a Stephen King horror movie, but with an elegant, sun-kissed French look. And Laurent Lafitte is a big, tall muscled man with matching tattoos on both shoulders. He has an ex-boyfriend whose arms are covered with them, and is a tattoo artist. He's unattached and admits to a colleague he's afraid of attachment, and afraid of being afraid (or is it of people who are afraid?).

And the students likewise. Where they are going we can only guess, but it's nowhere good. This is a movie full of surprises even as its genre aspects make it seem pleasingly familiar, but not quite. This is an excellent entertainment we can't spoil by talking about too much, and it relates to very contemporary issues, things that make the younger generation see nothing but doom in their futures and feel nothing but anger and contempt toward their elders.

Lafitte is a compelling presence. The kids are increasingly disquieting. The photography by Romain Carcanade sparkles. The production design by Guillaume Deviercy has a sticky glow. The music by the group Zombie Zombie is pleasingly doom-riven. In the face of all the creepy horror invading Pierre's digs and the apocalyptic and suicidal rituals of the kids, the double finales, though ambitious for a small French production, may feel somewhat climactic.

School's Out/L'heure de la sortie, 107 mins., debuted at Venice Aug. 2018; shown at Austin Fantastic Fest. Sept. 2018. Opened theatrically in France 9 Jan. 2019 to excellent reviews (AlloCiné press rating 3.7). Screened for this review as part of the 2018 UniFrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.

Rendez-Vous showtimes:
Friday, March 8, 3:45pm
Saturday, March 9, 8:30pm (Q&A with Sébastien Marnier)

*See Louis Guichard, Télérama.


©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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