Monday 24 November 2014

School of Babel - French doc from Julie Bertuccelli

Julie Bertuccelli's 2013 documentary 'La Cour de Babel' about a 'reception' class in a French school in Paris, is fascinating as we see the group of 24 children speaking 24 different languages adapt to their new life in France. The children are from completely different backgrounds, and have come to France for a variety of reasons. There is a Venezuelean boy who plays the cello, a Jewish Serbian whose family have fled Nazi hatred for a new life, a Chinese girl whose parents run a restaurant, an African girl who has been reunited with her mother and finally given a chance to start school,  to new a few.

This is a stripped back low budget doc, that gets right to the heart of the pupils and their desire to learn and engage. Most are aged between 13 to 15, and as new arrivals in France, they start in the reception class in order to learn / improve their French so they can then start regular classes. Filmed almost entirely in the classroom with many closeup shots that seem to delve into their young minds, Bertuccelli stumbled upon this class after being asked to be a judge in a short film competition for school children. She filmed over the course of an academic year, going to the class around twice a week, and doing all the cinematography herself.

Throughout the film the class are working on the short film that they plan to enter, in a nationwide competition, with the theme being diversity. The group of innocent teenagers, not yet scarred by disillusionment, work together and enjoy sharing their own language and customs with one another. I really liked the way that the kids are able to discuss religion and customs in class without judging one another, they are very accepting, and there is a real feeling of equality amongst them. Held together and encouraged by their wonderful teacher Brigitte Cervoni, she does her best to animate them and draw them out of their often very shy selves as they struggle with learning a new language.
Julie Bertuccelli is best known for 'Since Otar Left' (2003) and 'The Tree' (2010), has also directed a few documentary's in her career. School of Babel will be out in the UK on the 4th of December.

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