Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 10, 2020 7:14 pm 
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A new film about a French banlieue school

This film about another Saint Denis Paris banieue collège (middle school), centers on new vice principal, of Arab origin like a lot of the faculty, Samia (Zita Hanrot, from Paul Sanchez Is Back!), adopts a positive attitude and goes easy on discipline of students, though they constantly need it.

Central is Yanis (Liam Pierron), a smart boy (though the actor has dead eyes) who can't decide between being academic or a hoodlum, and drifts, but gets into fights. Some of the other male students (female ones are barely delineated) are played for comedy, even when they lie and cheat. The teachers aren't treated very seriously. One teacher trades off excuses for misbehavior for dope with a student and gets caught; the history prof can't take more provocation. The maths prof, who's tough, if burnt out, befriends Samia, though she's visiting a boyfriend in jail, the reason she's come to this area, though that goes bad.

This film is lively and colorful, but crude and unambitious, like a TV movie. It is decidedly not up to the standards of Laurent Cantet's Palme d'Or-winning The Class/Engre les murs>/I] (NYFF 2008), which sticks exclusively to what happens at school and in the classroom. The effort to take action outside the school proves not to be an improvement here and this movie seems both cynical and frivolous. It's heart is in the right place, and there are some lovely moments, like the music class when a student conducts a symphony of recorders and drums, And there's a good scene where the class's most pathological liar mistranslates all the math prof's strong criticisms in a conference to his mother into Arabic as praise, but the math prof reveals he's been secretly Arabic-speaking all along. But this movie just isn't thoughtful or original enough. Many French critics admired this new film for its sense of the energy and vitality of the personalities, but found the screenplay's outline standard and a bit lacking. It seems mired in vulgarity, which, for instance, Kehiche's pioneering Games of Love and Chance/L'esquive (2003) so clearly isn't.

The film is directed by two slam poets, and there's one of their rhyming compositions summing things up over the closing credits that's one of the best parts.

[I]School Life/La vie scolaire, 111 mins., French release 28 Aug. , AlloCiné press rating 3.4 (68%). A Netflix release.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinemaa
Sunday, March 8, 1:00pm (Q&A with Mehdi Idir)
Tuesday, March 10, 4:00pm

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