The Grad­u­a­tion

The Observer - The New Review - - FILM -

(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.

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