(119 mins, 15) Directed by Claire Simon
The Graduation, or Le concours (translating more accurately as “competition” in its original French), documents the rigorous admissions process of prestigious Parisian film school La Fémis, once home to Alain Resnais, Arnaud Desplechin and Claire Denis (and director Claire Simon, who used to teach there). The film’s effectiveness relies on some external understanding of the school’s standing. Or perhaps the lack of context is part of Simon’s plan to subtly criticise the fact that its clout is taken for granted – and its selection method, subjective to the point of arbitrary. Wide-eyed prospective students take three entrance tests (written, practical and oral), with each individual’s merits and failings exhaustively debated at each stage by the school’s teachers ( pictured right).
“He did that well!” comments one teacher after watching an applicant’s screen test. “I was falling asleep,” argues another. “Help! Don’t come to La Fémis! Get a life!” sneers a professor to her colleague after watching a boy “masturbating” to his own rushes. An interview panel grills a girl from Ivory Coast with personal questions about her family background and her political ambitions (“the cinema is more effective at conveying ideas than politicians”) before bamboozling her with the simple question: “What films do you like?” Naturally, her mind goes blank.
Simon’s fly-on-the-wall mode is a distancing tool, but shouldn’t be confused with ambivalence. Exposing the mechanics of decision-making is an implicit reproof of increasing conservatism, both of La Fémis itself and the film-makers they are producing.