Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Excellent movie on French TV

A week ago, when I learned from my favorite TV weekly (the one, of course, that employs my daughter as a journalist) that the actress Isabelle Adjani would be playing the role of a slightly deranged schoolteacher in a so-called téléfilm (a movie made to be aired on TV), I was intrigued in the same way as when I once heard—in a totally different domain—that the great Lance Armstrong planned to make a comeback to professional cycling in a relatively low-profile bike race down in South Australia. Now, some readers might criticize my choice of words, so I hasten to add that I'm aware that it's not exactly correct to qualify the Tour Down Under as "relatively low-profile", just as it's misleading to suggest that the great Adjani has been absent long enough from theater and cinema to allow me to talk of a "comeback".

The 85-minute film, which was released today in French movie houses, has a strangely dull title, which doesn't really attract viewers: Skirt Day. Fortunately, journalistic previews told us, without spoiling anything, what to expect in the movie. The story line is as simple as it is ingenious: exactly the sort of tale that an imaginative scriptwriter might dream of inventing.

In a suburban secondary school, many of the undisciplined students seem to be of a North African ethnic background. A distraught teacher of literature, played by Adjani, intends to introduce her students to a comedy by Molière, but the classroom atmosphere is so rowdy and out of control that her attempts at talking about theater are doomed. In a scuffle, one of her more boisterous students drops a bag, and a loaded hand gun slides out of it and onto the floor. Spontaneously, without thinking, the teacher snatches the weapon and transforms herself, in an instant, into a keeper of hostages. During the confused events that unfold, the armed teacher has extraordinary opportunities to read out the riot act, as it were, to her dumbfounded students, most of whom are lying face down on the floor of the classroom, and fearing for their lives. She forces them to listen to an assortment of harsh facts about sexuality, the respect of women, the absurdity of racist attitudes, etc.

Adjani's dramatic offering is utterly superb, and she has been applauded unanimously by the vast audience of two and a quarter of a million viewers who, like me, watched the film on TV. The film is now destined to have a huge success in movie houses and, soon, on DVD.

Srely, one of the keys to Adjani's brilliant performance is her own personal background. Her stern father was an Algerian Kabyle, and her mother, a German. Isabelle and her brother grew up in the rough suburbs of Paris, and the brutal atmosphere of this film was not unknown to her.

As for the title, Skirt Day, it alludes to the silly idea that a woman who wears a skirt, rather than trousers, is asking for trouble, since many suburban males will see here as a loose female, akin to a prostitute. The teacher, in her role as a keeper of hostages, makes an unexpected ransom request: the observance of an annual Skirt Day, promoting a woman's liberty and right to wear whatever clothes she likes.

Conclusion. We can look forward to profound repercussions from this movie. Clearly, Isabelle Adjani has neither exhausted her dramatic impact upon all those who admire her, nor spoken her final words on the serious themes of this movie.