Each year, there seems to be one film featured at "Rendez-Vous with
French Cinema" that focuses on young people in school. This year's entry
is GRANDE ÉCOLE, an adaptation of Jean-Marie Besset's stage play
co-written by Besset and director Robert Salis.
The movie is a complex examination of a young man's coming of age
as he begins to negotiate the world on his own, away from his parents.
Paul (Gregory Baquet) is the son of a factory owner in Southern France. He
arrives at a prestigious and elite business school with his pal Chouquet(Arthur
Jugnot). They are sharing rooms with the rich and dashing Louis-Arnault
(Jocelyn Quiverin), who seems to be a big man on campus, complete with
pretty girlfriend Emeline (Élodie Navarre).
The focus of the film is on Paul, a blond, somewhat delicate soul with a
girlfriend of his own, Agnès (Alice Taglioni). She soon senses that Paul is
conflicted over something and eventually deduces that he has a crush on
Louis-Arnault. She even goes so far as to suggest a competition between
them to see who will be the first one to seduce him. If he wins, she'll withdraw;
if she wins, Paul must agree to spend the rest of his life with her.
Unbeknownst to her, though, Paul finds himself drawn to Arab worker
Mécir (Salim Kechiouche) and they enter into a relationship that has profound
effects on Paul.
I have to admit that when I first saw the film, I was really taken with it
and the story -- so much so that I purchased the DVD of the film. After
repeated viewings, I do see the flaws. Salis' direction is not as tight and
focused as it could have been and some of the performances are uneven.
And the thematic elements are not fully developed. The issues of class,
race and religion that are tangentially touched upon are not as developed
as they perhaps could have been. Still, I cannot but help to find some merit
in the film. There's something in Paul's struggles to define himself and to find
his place in the world to which I related.
GRANDE ÉCOLE may not be to everyone's taste, but I would recommend