La Concours (The Graduation)
Director Claire Simon chronicles the arduous and rigorous admissions process into one of France’s most prestigious film schools in the brave and bold The Graduation. Although it is the best film school in France, La Fémis is surprisingly state-run, and has produced some of Arthouse’s most notable directors. Simon’s documentary follows the students through three gruelling examinations: written, practical and oral. Her intimate fly-on-the-wall technique reveals every stutter and stumble of the disquieted yet determined young artistes, capturing their tears, trials and tribulations as they try to express their cinematic potential.
The filmmaker, however, also provides an alternative angle to La Fémis, because not only does she document the experiences of the applicants themselves but also those who select them. The candidates arrive in their thousands yet merely 40 are selected each year and come from all over the francophone world. In the first exam they are instructed to analyse a short clip from an independent movie, Simon’s circulating camera captures hundreds of nervous faces watching intensely, and hundreds of nervous hands scribbling desperately. The sound of frantic writing is punctuated with increasingly agitated sighs and heavy breaths – an all too familiar flashback to miserable, endless hours spent in the exam hall. The institution claims it is “not a school” yet their admissions process is evidently academic: the students obediently follow instructions and are subject to intense scrutiny, showing them to be cultivated into La Fémis props rather than potential independent directors.
Nevertheless, it is Simon’s candid shots of superiors discussing candidates after the oral examinations that are the most revealing. After meetng each aspirant the examiners discuss their thoughts, and with no actual marking criteria, the dialogue naturally gets heated as they try to constitute what it truly means to be a “cinéaste” (filmmaker). The director captures one particularly frank debate between a group of film connoisseurs, who openly label one applicant as “complétement dingue” (completely crazy), but at the same time suggest his delicate mental health may aid his artistic flair. It is during these flippant discussions that Claire Simon’s intentions behind her documentary are uncertain. Having once worked there herself, it is unclear how supportive she is of her old institution; although it opens up a space for artistic practice, their selection process depicts, at times, an insensitivity that is simply startling.
La Concours (The Graduation) is released nationwide on 15th September 2017.
Watch a clip from La Concours (The Graduation) here: