"I liked this film for its warmth and educational nature into an otherwise secluded topic"
School of Babel is a great microcosm for the joys and hardships of young immigrants.
It’s a documentary film that follows a class where newly arrived immigrant children in the ages of 11-13 start their journey into French education and their new lives. The children are from many different countries, ie Serbia, Brazil, China, Senegal and their families and reasons for coming fo France are equally diverse. But they are all bunched together in one class to learn French and find their feet before they are integrated into a normal class.
Through fly on the wall footage from lessons and teacher-parent conferences, we learn about the destinies of these pupils and their families. We learn about their dreams and expectations and their struggles, before and after coming to France. Many of the children miss the relatives they had to leave behind, and some are having a miserable time adapting to a new language and a new country.
School of Babel is a very emotional film that challenges any viewer not to cry when the pupils muse about their dreams of becoming doctors or talk about how they want to seize this opportunity that France offers them. Opportunities of education, prosperity and independence for example, that would not be possible in their home country.
Equally touching is the pressure the children are under that other children wouldn’t have to deal with; being the only one in your family for example who can speak the local language, being moved to another city on short notice because the authorities decide where they can offer you a home, or feeling different and gossiped about because of your physical appearance.
Although there is beauty in the humanity of the film, it is not a visual treat. Most of the shots are from the classroom or play ground of his school in the suburbs of Paris. There is a grayness and consciously non-glamourised look to the film. Some of it is even filmed by the students.
The film has the look of a home video from the last decade, but don’t let appearances fool you. School of Babel was directed by Julie Bertuccelli who is an acclaimed documentary maker and also the director of “The Tree” which starred Charlotte Gainsbourg.
I liked this film for its warmth and educational nature into an otherwise secluded topic. But I also thought it was a bit too cheesy at times. I felt like I was back in the class room with them, following a preppy lesson plan for a twelve year old and I wanted the bell to ring for recess.
It has received good reviews in its native France, a country where the debate about immigration has been a hot issue since the European elections in May where almost 25% of the voters cast their ballot for the nationalist, protectionist party Front National.
All in all, Julie Bertuccelli has with small means accomplished to create powerful insight about the conditions newly immigrated children face, and there are truly unforgettable scenes in this film. Therefor I forgive her for the excess sweetness and the dull footage and thank her for creating an important documentation of a time, perhaps just before another watershed in policy making about EU’s borders.