School Life is a comedic but grounded depiction of a year within the walls of a French school in St. Denis, a lower-middle-class French suburb. Focusing on a group of 9th grade students who have varying behavioural issues, the film doesn’t offer much in terms of originality, but still has its charms. It is refreshing to see a teen school experience that doesn’t sugar-coat its narrative with sentimental and/or unrealistically positivity.
The heart of this film is a defiant statement that teachers and students are not that different. Depicted partly through the eyes of new vice principal Ms. Zibra (Zita Hanrot), she is new to the area and naive in how to deal with such students. Many with behavioural issues and problems at home, Zibra wears herself out trying to help as many as she can.
The opposite of her experience is that of Yanis (Liam Pierron), the central antagonist: the stereotypical intelligent but troubled student. His main problems at school stem from external issues though, one example being that his father has been in jail for two years, forcing him to mature quickly. When alone, he is clearly a nice but confused young man.
School Life is best when it sticks to comedy as both teachers and students try to out-do one another. Its message is far from subtle, but the drama of the narrative hit on some dark moments. Fortunately, the comedy is consistent to offset a depressing tone: a film that is worth a watch.
Thank you to Anette Smith and the Australian-based Alliance Française French Film Festival, especially due to COVID-19-related circumstances.