Movie Reviews: The Class and Heavenly Creatures — Two films about adolescents
by Luanne Paul King
Writer and actor François Bégaudeau co-wrote this film, which is based on his novel about teaching in a multi-ethnic school in Paris. He plays François Marin, a French language and literature teacher of adolescent students who live in a rough neighborhood.
The other co-authors were Laurent Cantet — who also admirably directed the movie — and Robin Campillo. But some astonishing dialogue was improvised by the students; they deserve recognition as co-writers! I found the students’ banter quite revealing as they constantly challenged their teacher. Yet, some students were afraid to talk. It was touching to see Marin trying to loosen the students up by asking them to write and share their autobiographies. Many did, even taciturn Wei (Wei Huang) from China.
I thought the film turned an important corner when Marin empathized with Souleymane (Franck Keita), a student from Mali who didn’t know how to write, even though that same student had previously insulted Marin. The teacher encouraged Souleymane to use some of his photographs for a class project. The work received heartwarming praise from classmates. Unfortunately, Sandra (Esmeralda Ouertani) and Khoumba (Rachel Regulier) quoted another teacher’s unflattering remark about Souleymane, and that made him withdraw again.
Kudos to the writer and those who cast unknown but believable actors. I felt all the characters grew, except for one girl student who declared at the end, “I didn’t learn anything.” She’ll be back.
128 minutes. French, with English subtitles. Rated PG-13.
In this film, Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey start their film-acting careers by playing roles as intense as characters in an ancient Greek tragedy.
The roles are those of two real-life adolescent girls in New Zealand in the 1950s. Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh researched and wrote the story of these two imaginative adolescents, Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet) and Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey), who attend the same school. Juliet is the daughter of wealthy parents who frequently travel. Pauline’s parents are middle-class people who conform to social mores. The girls become passionate, devoted friends because they don’t feel part of their own families.
I was impressed by the film’s images showing the abundant beauty of New Zealand. But then the imagery evolved into what the girls were imagining: a “Fourth World” they invented. In this world there are moving clay figures of favorite characters from films and operas the girls idolize; they dance and sing with Juliet and Pauline. That part of the film made me very joyful. Jackson’s digital effects of that imaginary world are seductive. But then I began to fear for the girls’ sanity.
Further, there is a disaster in their real lives: Juliet has an attack of tuberculosis and is sent to a clinic for four months. When Juliet is released from the clinic, a doctor suggests to Pauline’s mother that Pauline may be homosexual. In New Zealand that was illegal in the ’50s! I was appalled by the alacrity of the parents agreeing to separate the girls — forever! Jackson’s film turns ugly. The girls blame Pauline’s mother and plan her demise. Do they succeed?
104 minutes. Rated R. Available on DVD.