The acclaimed professor at an elite prep school climbs out of a third-story window in the middle of class and does a swan dive. A bad day for the teacher and a rough year for the school, but nothing compared to what lies in store for humanity. As might be expected, students are at the bottom of this. The class at hand is a group of extremely intelligent kids. Indeed, the top several do better than nineteen out of twenty in grades. Almost supernatural, and that does not include the gaslight routine they pull on their unlucky new teacher.
Presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance as part of the 24th edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, this North American debut has mystery phone calls, weeping, disappearances, terrorist alarms, a school bus race to death and a power plant meltdown. The kids are alright.
For alpha female Apolline (a bang-up debut by Luàna Bajrami), the 95th percentile is not good enough. She is a 20 out of 20 kind of girl with a chip on her shoulder as big as a tsunami. Her band of six is out for blood, rehearsing for the big bang by putting plastic bags over each other’s heads and dropping into swimming pools mummified in shrink wrap. Their Patti Smith choir song is performed like Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” with Russian inflections from “Song of the Volga Boatmen.”
The establishment is in the cross hairs. This is not completely surprising considering the school is built next to a giant power plant (eat your heart out Homer Simpson), its cooling towers belching vapors and who knows what else. The kids’ favorite hangout is an abandoned cement quarry where they romp amongst the bones of the dead nature destroying infrastructure. Their secret training video is hidden there, a ten part series featuring non-stop slaughtered animals, collapsing buildings and very serious sounding screaming. Think “Koyaanisqatsi” amped by a factor of ten with industrial demolition.
Being a substitute teacher is never easy and grad student Pierre (two-time Cesar nominee Laurent Lafitte) soon learns that bicycle commuting to work may not be enough. He wants to support his charges but diving in the pool to retrieve shrink wrapped sophomores is too much. Cannes winner and zillion time Cesar nominee Emmanuelle Bercot brings the requisite lunacy to her role as choir teacher and activist cheer leader. Queen of psychos Isabelle Huppert could not have done it any better.
Fuzzy logic ensues as about half of the teachers at the school are taken under the spell of the stampeding teen prodigies. As these mesmerized souls assure Pierre there are no issues with his students, hail storms occur, lights flash, insects swarm and beetles crawl out of drains. Angry herds of deer and elk strut their stuff on post-apocalyptic city streets, thumbing antlers at their former human slavers. David Lynch averts his eyes.
Terrorist drills occur spontaneously throughout the story, arranged by the maverick students themselves? The question is, who are real terrorists? The fast clip, in between collapsing buildings, of president Trump expounding on some unknown capitalist dogma makes that clear enough. Be there or be golfing.
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