French kids struggle in inner-city school; language, drugs.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that School Life, in French with subtitles, looks at the struggles of high school students in the poorest area of Paris. A new counselor tries to help them as she learns the ropes at the school and deals with some teachers who are strict disciplinarians and others who really want to help the students. Fights break out at school, one student sells marijuana in the halls, students throw things at the board and curse teachers out. Most struggle with poverty. Prejudices against people of color and Muslims are mentioned. Crude language is plentiful, including "f--k," "s--t," "bastard, "bitch," "c--k," "d--k," "whore," and "retard," and a student gives someone the finger. One girl is scolded for dressing like a "prostitute" and a boy is asked if he's a virgin. Teachers and students drink alcohol and smoke marijuana at their separate parties.
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What's the Story?
SCHOOL LIFE, like other movies that shine a light on the troubles of inner-city students, presents the usual difficulties facing the poor -- large class size, inadequate resources, and teachers tired of dodging projectiles and being cursed out in their classes. Yanis (Liam Pierron) is a bright 15-year-old whose dad is in jail. He lives in the projects in one of Paris' worst neighborhoods. Friends are drug dealers. Because he's been disruptive in the past, he's now in a school that handles disciplinary problems. Class time is often interrupted by smart aleck performances and flying milk cartons. The school's new counselor, Samia Zibra (Zita Hanrot), has moved to Paris to take the job and to be nearer to her boyfriend, who is in jail for credit card fraud, a charge he's assured her was false. Counselors and teachers strain to find humor, but much of what they come up with reflects the frustration and acceptance of their students' terrible situations.
Is It Any Good?
You could say that this movie lacks a real story, and it certainly offers no conclusive ending, but surely that's the filmmaker's eloquently communicated point. Even the most dedicated teachers and educational systems can't fix poverty and discrimination because their effects on children's lives begin long before kids get to school. School Life suggests the cycle of poverty, often fed by social biases against religions and skin color, creates generations of uneducated and/or impoverished parents who then raise kids in the same if not worse circumstances. Surrounded by crime, drug use, street violence, and other impediments to success, teens understand the odds are against them and often give up. Yanis, well played by Pierron, knows he's bright but he also knows that his chances of rising up from poverty, given all his baggage, are slim.
Note that many French acronyms (seemingly referring to low-performing students) are thrown about and never explained. An idealistic math teacher suggests to questioning students that learning math can help teach kids that "everything in life can be solved." The movie sadly demonstrates that either this isn't the case, or that no one's yet found the solutions to the many problems presented here.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about what the filmmaker is trying to say about inner-city poverty and the lack of opportunities for kids to climb out of it. Do you think getting a good education can help people rise out of poverty? Why or why not?
How does School Life compare to American movies on the same subject? Do you think that urban poverty is similar around the world?
How does prejudice against skin color and religion play a role in the story?
- In theaters: August 28, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: April 10, 2020
- Cast: Zita Hanrot, Liam Pierron, Soufiane Perron, Moussa Mansaly
- Directors: Mehdi Idir, Grand Mal Corps
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 111 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: February 18, 2023
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