"Grande Ecole" is a confused, stiffly acted drama about an elite French school that's somewhat redeemed by a lot of hot love scenes.
By JOSHUA TANZER
Welcome to Ecole Normale Supérieure, so named, as Paul tells his girlfriend AgnŹs, "because I'm normal and you're superior."
You might question both of those assessments after seeing the movie. There's not a normal, unforced performance and the script is frequently inferior. The school where the movie is set doesn't seem very superior either.
|Original title: Grande École.|
Directed by: Robert Salis.
Written by: Jean-Marie Besset, Robert Salis.
Adapted from a play by: Jean-Marie Besset.
Cast: Gregori Baquet, Alice Taglioni, Jocelyn Quivrin, Elodie Navarre, Arthur Jugnot, Salim Kechiouche, Eva Darlan, Lakshantha Abenayake, Yasmine Belmadi, Jacques Collard, Jo Prestia, Jamal Hadir, Gilbert Desveaux, Arnaud Binard, Adan Jodorowsky, Jean-Michel Cannone, Hanifa Mizi-Alloua, Eva Saint-Paul, Jean-Loup Wolff, Eric Seigne.
Cinematography: Emmanuel Soyer.
In French with English subtitles.
|Walter Reade Theater
Lincoln Center, 65th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam
Wed. March 17 at 1 and 6:30 p.m., Sat. March 30 at 1:30|
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It's a place where the uniformly Aryan, clean-cut, suit-and-tie wearing students are welcomed to the school with high-minded rhetoric by the dean, who promptly disappears for the rest of the film. Despite some evidence of classes having been attended and papers having been written, there's little of an education-related nature going on to justify our characters' frequent dropping of names like Foucault and Chateaubriand. Université Pseudointellectuelle would be a more appropriate name.
"Grande Ecole" barely has enough focus to be about anything in particular, but if it has one message, perhaps that message is this: Lust is good. Pretty much everyone in the movie is sleeping or thinking of sleeping with everybody else gender, class, race, jealousy and pre-existing relationships be damned. And that's fine. "Hetero, homo, that's all over," one of them says. Maybe he's right.
At the center of the story is Paul, a new student who's doubly uneasy because he's very country and very femme-looking. Dropped into this elite institution that's barely distinguishable from a homoerotic Hitler Youth camp, he struggles to fit in with his more acceptably bourgeois classmates, befriends a French-Arab laborer, and tries to suppress his evident desire for his handsome, patrician roommate Louis-Arnaud. Sensing Paul's turmoil, AgnŹs challenges him to see which of them can sleep with Louis-Arnaud first.|
The filmmakers want us to care about so many different issues sexuality, social class, racism, human rights, education and the dignity of labor that it says too little about any of them. It lacks the human depth of a good character study or ensemble drama and risks reducing its issues to abstractions. And it never really takes on what looks like its most obvious subject the school's elitism.
But here are a few good things about "Grande Ecole" that keep it from being a total drag: Lots of pretty good eroticism, unapologetic and sex-positive. Equal-opportunity nudity in fact, biased a bit toward the men for a change and equal-opportunity sexuality, gay and straight. A very passionate makeout scene, which is (inexplicably but impressively) filmed in a hall of mirrors whose infinite reflections of the male-male couple, cranks the intensity way up.
It's an unlikely comparison, but an observation about the last "Star Wars" movie comes to mind here: Every time someone in "Attack of the Clones" opened his mouth you wanted to tell him to shut up and go back to fighting. "Grande Ecole" is the same, if you substitute a different f-word for "fighting." Its intellectual pretensions are transparent; its portrayal of immigrant culture is superficial; its characters are either smug or dopey; but at least it doesn't lack passion. It's just disappointing whenever the characters feel the need to put their clothes back on.
|MARCH 10, 2004|
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