Black­board jun­gle

LES HÉRI­TIERS, not rated, in French with sub­ti­tles, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - MOVING IMAGES -

In France, stu­dents in pub­lic schools are for­bid­den from wear­ing overt religious sym­bols, in­clud­ing head­scarves, yarmulkes, tur­bans, or large crosses. In some schools, even don­ning head­bands and long skirts can get girls sus­pended, a pol­icy seen by many as specif­i­cally tar­get­ing Mus­lims. In the open­ing scene of Les héri­tiers, which is based on a true story, a young woman who has passed her bac­calau­réat — re­quired to at­tend univer­sity — has come to her high school to pick up her cer­tifi­cate. Even though she is no longer a stu­dent, a teacher re­fuses her en­try be­cause she is wear­ing a head­scarf. The loud al­ter­ca­tion goes un­re­solved, and we do not meet the young woman again. We fast-for­ward to the first day of the fol­low­ing school year, where we meet a mul­ti­cul­tural class of stu­dents so dis­af­fected and rowdy they openly mock their home­room ad­vi­sor, Mme. Gueguen (Ari­ane As­caride). Madame, of course, will have the last laugh in this mes­sage-heavy, Stand and De­liver- style movie that suc­ceeds de­spite its po­ten­tial for easy an­swers.

Gueguen is an art his­tory teacher, but in an en­vi­ron­ment of grow­ing religious and cul­tural ten­sion, it is dif­fi­cult for the stu­dents to ab­sorb their les­son in Byzan­tine art with­out it de­volv­ing into an ar­gu­ment about whether or not a paint­ing is anti-Mus­lim and pro-Chris­tian. Gueguen is prag­matic and, un­like some of the other teach­ers, for­giv­ing of the stu­dents’ an­gry out­bursts and de­fen­sive pos­tur­ing. She teaches them the mean­ing of pro­pa­ganda, say­ing, “There are no in­no­cent im­ages.” A se­ries of events leads her to in­vite the class to par­tic­i­pate in an ex­tracur­ric­u­lar na­tional civics com­pe­ti­tion, for which they must pre­pare a pre­sen­ta­tion about chil­dren and ado­les­cents im­pris­oned in Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camps. They balk at first but come around, and through the process they learn em­pa­thy and re­search meth­ods, his­tory and team­work. They forge new friend­ships, come out of their shells, and find aca­demic di­rec­tion.

Many Amer­i­can movies about the education of at-risk youth, such as 1995’s Dan­ger­ous Minds, fol­low a sim­i­lar path to Les héri­tiers, but this story has a sub­tlety and pur­pose that el­e­vates it, as well as be­liev­able, nat­u­ral act­ing by the large cast of teenagers. Its frag­mented pac­ing and brief glimpses into the stu­dents’ lives out­side of school make it lightly rem­i­nis­cent of the 1976 Truf­faut clas­sic, Small Change. The point of Les

héri­tiers does not seem to be to save the stu­dents from the streets but to make them un­der­stand the world in which they live and to be able to see past pro­pa­ganda to larger truths about hu­man na­ture. The stu­dents dis­cover for them­selves how much past and present prej­u­dice shapes their daily lives and that it is only by wak­ing up to his­tory that they can al­ter the fu­ture. — Jen­nifer Levin

Teacher’s pet: Amine Lansari and Ari­ane As­caride

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.