The kids are all right

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

SCHOOL OF BA­BEL ★★★★ Di­rected by Julie Ber­tuc­celli Club, IFI mem­bers, 89mins

The Col­lège de la Grange aux Belles in North­ern Paris lies close to the Eurostar ter­mi­nal at Gare du Nord, thus en­sur­ing that the school’s pop­u­la­tion is a melt­ing pot of cul­tures, na­tion­al­i­ties and re­li­gions.

Com­mend­ably, the col­lege runs a re­cep­tion class, a pro­gramme for im­mi­grants to get their French up to speed and to ac­cli­ma­tise to their new en­vi­ron­ment. Many of the chil­dren, aged from 11 to 15 years, are refugees.

Djen­abou faces gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion and life as a child bride should she re­turn to Guinea. Marko, who is Jewish, has fled per­se­cu­tion in Ser­bia by neo-Nazi groups.

Other chil­dren, in­clud­ing Kessa from London, have come to im­prove their lin­guis­tic skills. Ev­ery cor­ner of the planet is rep­re­sented by the re­cep­tion class. But each child is on his or her own jour­ney. Luca from North­ern Ire­land has been di­ag­nosed with Asperger Syn­drome. Miguel, a promis­ing young cel­list, has come to study at the con­ser­va­tory of mu­sic.

Julie Ber­tu­celli’s film is not overtly po­lit­i­cal. Im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy is never broached and the cam­era sel­dom leaves the class­room. Yet, slowly, a poignant pic­ture of over­worked par­ents and dis­rupted fam­ily life emerges. Chi­nese girl Xin rarely speaks at home be­cause her mother works such long hours: be­fore she ar­rived in France she hadn’t seen her mother in 10 years. Like­wise, Ro­ma­nian An­dromeda, a bright spark, is of­ten home alone.

There are dif­fer­ences within the re­cep­tion group, dif­fer­ences that man­i­fest as dis­cus­sions about Adam and Eve and the Quar’an and the Bi­ble. There are lin­guis­tic and cul­tural dis­putes. And there is the main­stream pop­u­la­tion of the school, who “treat us like mos­qui­toes,” ac­cord­ing to one girl.

Ber­tuceli’s mar­vel­lous film co­a­lesces into a lovely chron­i­cle of in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ment. The kids learn. They blos­som. They bond. The kids are all right.

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