School Life (PG) - 111 minutes
How tough a job is teaching and disciplining a bunch of lively, but often disinterested and unmotivated students?
That contention is at the heart of a considered and engaging French dramatic comedy set in a low socio-economic and migrant neighbourhood.
A new, youngish female vice-principal, Samia Zibra (Zita Hanrot), arrives with the intent of doing all she can to make a difference in the lives of those attending school in Saint-Denis.
She claims she has moved to her new position so she can be closer to Paris.
In reality, it is because her boyfriend has been incarcerated nearby.
The biggest thorn in her side is a 15-year-old year nine student named Yanis Bensaadi (Liam Pierron).
He’s not a bad kid … in fact he’s quite cheeky, but his biggest influence is a 20-year-old drug dealer.
There’s one teacher in particular that Yanis doesn’t get along with and Yanis isn’t afraid to lash out at him.
Yanis loves his younger sister and his mum, who is doing it tough as her husband (Yanis and his sister’s father) is in jail, the same one in which the vice-principal’s partner is doing time.
Yanis is not at all convinced that school is the right place for him.
When Yanis tells the VP he likes gangster movies, she tries to motivate him to pursue an audio-visual course.
But with Yanis, nothing is easy.
This pair – Samia and Yanis – are the mainstays of the picture, but there are umpteen other threads too.
They include the VP’s two sidekicks, a fellow teacher who has taken an interest in her and who has been at the school for eight years and Samia’s interactions with many other students and a few parents.
There is a lot going on ... all the time and the path is not only busy, but rocky.
The points of heightened drama are regularly offset by lighter moments and the mix is a compelling one.
Much credit must go to the writers and directors Mehdi Idir and Grand Corps Malade.
Their touchstones are easily relatable.
They’ve done a fine job crafting such a multitude of players and bringing them all together so seamlessly.
To get the most out of School Life, you need to pay attention, something many of the kids depicted struggle with.
School Life has charm, substance, subtlety and humour.
Hanrot is natural and convincing in the lead, while there’s a feeling of “whatever will be, will be” in Pierron’s harder to read portrayal of a kid on the precipice.
There’s a pleasant realism about School Life, without false bravado or the promise of a happy ending.
Rated PG, School Life scores a 7½ to 8 out of 10.