Hélène Angel’s superb Primaire (Elementary) is an honest portrayal of the hardships one faces when dealing with elementary students. It will strike a chord with anyone who has ever taught in a school. One scene where Flo is checking herself for head lice is something that all career grade school teachers face at some point. Angel’s direction and writing allude to the fact that perhaps she herself has experience as a teacher.
Sara Forestier candidly portrays Florence, dedicated teacher and single mother to Denis (Albert Cousi) who also is begrudgingly her student. Denis feels neglected in comparison to her other students. Flo’s interactions with troubled student Sacha (Ghillas Bendjoudi) and his unofficial guardian Mathieu (the oddly charming Vincent Elbaz) open her eyes to how she might be misprioritising her life. These main four actors play so well off one another and deal with the dialogue and situations in a natural way.
The score begins quite playfully with light and energetic piano rhythms but it’s not long before it shifts to sentimental clarinet and stringed melodies. The way the keyboard in one scene is then incorporated into the film’s score works well. It’s a fun effect when Sacha turns on a classical CD while he and Denis go wild, dancing and running amok to said song. The sound editing enhances the mise-en-scène.
The vibrant colours and spirit of the classroom differ so strikingly from the muddled monochrome solitude of Sacha’s troubled childhood. Working with child actors is known to be a difficult endeavour, not only because of the issues with parents but because they are often unpredictable and a bit wilder than the average adult. These honest depictions of children taunting and blowing up on one another feels quite authentic. It would be interesting to know whether the kids had any freedom to improvise or alter their lines or actions.
Angel’s realistic depiction of the life of a French school teacher, and the unforeseeable daily complications that are associated with this profession, is poignant although it might be a bit too self-righteous for some viewers. Nevertheless, Primaire is a great example of how films, especially those involving kids, don’t necessarily need to be tied up neatly into a picture-perfect bow. Sadly, many studio executives still feel the need for a “happy ending” to appease cinema fans who “can’t handle the truth”.
Primaire (Elementary) is released in selected cinemas on 8th September 2017.
Watch the trailer for Primaire (Elementary) here: