It All Starts Today

1999, Movie, NR, 117 mins


And you thought your job was tough. With this profile of a devoted French schoolteacher and the desperately poor community he serves, Bertrand Tavernier continues to explore the plight of the French underclass he first examined in his 1998 documentary THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS. His subjects here are fictional, but their stories are no less grim. Daniel Lefebvre (Philippe Torreton) is the beleaguered director of the Lagrange School, an underfunded kindergarten in an impoverished mining village in Northern France. For many of Daniel's students, school is the most stable environment they know: Many of their parents are too poor to feed, clothe or bathe their children, and some go months without heat or electricity. To these families, Daniel is as much a social worker as a teacher; to town officials and the head of the inefficient social services, he's an agitator. That reputation could spell trouble for Daniel, whose attempts to resolve one crisis after another on his students' behalf share screen time with the far less interesting story of his relationship with his sculptor girlfriend (Maria Pitarresi) and her son (Lambert Marchal). Written by Tavernier, his daughter Tiffany and her husband, a teacher at a school like Lagrange, this probably isn't most people's idea of a good time at the movies. But the film's message about the importance of funding for social services and education is a crucial one, and not specific to France (similar concerns about the crisis in educating China's poor inspired Zhang Yimou's NOT ONE LESS). Yet despite the appalling conditions on display, there is quite a bit to enjoy, particularly Tavernier's smooth direction of a mostly nonprofessional cast (the children are adorable) and a superb performance from Torreton (CAPITAINE CONAN), easily one of the finest actors working in France today. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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