“Those kids became my enemies.”
Guaranteed to put anyone off education as a career, this stars Gallic sex-kitten from the 80’s, Isabelle Adjani, now all middle-aged and playing French literature teacher Sonia Bergerac. whose career has devolved into hell – hence the line atop this review. She’s teaching a teenage class who, virtually without exception, clearly don’t want to be there, when she finds a gun in one of their bags. A struggle erupts, and when the dust settles, Sonia has the gun, a student is lying on the floor with a bullet-wound, and a siege situation has begun. On the outside, police negotiator Labouret (Podalydès) is having a bad day himself, trying to avoid a blood-bath, while his political masters try to spin news of the unexpected hostage crisis. But inside the theater, Sonia finds that it’s not just political power that grows from the barrel of a gun: she hasn’t ever had pupils pay such impeccable attention to her lessons before…
Made in 2009, this has, if anything become even more topical in the light of the refugee crisis which has become a hot-button issue in Europe of late. For this pulls few punches in its criticism of those who adopt politically-correct policies, simply to avoid trouble with minorities. The title refers to one of Sonia’s unusual demands, a day that women can wear skirts without the risk of harassment by political or religious conservatives, and writer-director Lilienfeld is also scathing in his criticism of immigrants who don’t integrate into their new homeland (a later reveal indicates it’s the latter aspect which is most important), as well as, it appears, yelling at local kids to get off his damn lawn. It is almost certainly the case that aspects of this will make more sense to a local audience; viewers outside France have to work backwards from what’s presented, to read Lilienfeld’s view of French society, rather than the other way around. However, he is also careful not to paint the pupils with a single brush: some are every bit as aggrieved with the status quo of appeasement as Sonia – and, arguably, with greater justification.
It’s not a film without its problems. The exterior scenes don’t have anything like the same impact, and the end feels almost like the director ran out of things to say, and opted for the simplest way to tie up all the loose ends, regardless of how abrupt it might seem. But it’s still genuinely thought-provoking – not something we find often in our genre here – and even if you don’t necessarily agree with everything Lilienfeld has to say, he deserves respect for saying it in a reasonable way. Adjani, who largely came out of retirement to make this, does a great job: the scenario sounds kinda silly, yet largely through her portrayal of a woman at the absolute end of her rope, it becomes plausible enough to work. Hard to imagine anything like this coming out of Hollywood, that’s for sure.
Dir: Jean-Paul Lilienfeld
Star: Isabelle Adjani, Denis Podalydès, Yann Ebonge, Sonia Amori
a.k.a. La Journée de la jupe