Sunday, January 09, 2005

It All Starts Today

1999, France, directed by Bertrand Tavernier (original title: Ça commence aujourd'hui)

It All Starts Today is the tale of Daniel, a schoolteacher in the northern part of France, an area devastated by decades of economic decline. His little village school struggles under every imaginable strain: lack of resources, grinding poverty, occasionally abusive parents, and an administrative system so dysfunctional it can barely assist with the most fundamental needs of the school. Daniel, however, is almost tirelessly engaged in improving the school, for its teachers and its students, trying everything possible to involve and revive the community. Although parts of the film are quite devastating in their documentary feel (reminiscent of Tavernier's L.627; Didier Bezace, star of that film, pops up in a key small role here), there are rays of hope, too: the film is a kind of cry for help, but it's also one that makes you want to become involved, rather than simply hoping that someone else will deal with the problem. Philippe Torreton is superb in the lead role, and there's no shortage of able support. Bruno Dumont and others have made several deeply depressing movies about this part of France in recent years, and Tavernier's humanist alternative is a refreshing corrective.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States