School Life, directed by Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane, is a perfectly sweet film but, given the one hour and 20 minute running time, it’s hard not to wonder why it was made.
The documentary follows two elderly married teachers, John and Amanda, at a private boarding school in Ireland by the name of Headfort House. John and Amanda are both naturally affable, with a genuine and enviable passion for their jobs. The school itself also comes off well, small enough to encourage the children’s freedom almost in the manner of a Steiner school. Perhaps the most cynical answer to the above question could then be that this film was made as a sort of overblown prospectus for Headfort and, if this is its intention, then it does succeed.
However, the inclusion of an American director, David Rane, and the work’s promotional material implies that this is not the case. Ostensibly, School Life is about the fact that John and Amanda’s careers are drawing to a close and the question of how they will fill their lives without the assistance of a gaggle of primary school-aged children. This supposed central dilemma of the film, though, is dealt with sparingly. John and Amanda discuss it about twice. “What will we do all day?” they ask both times and then, finding no answer to this question, go back to teaching kids how to play rock music or act Shakespeare.
This means that any narrative progression the documentary attempts to offer comes from the kids themselves. There are various issues of discipline and moments of success, not to mention one or three cases of children with low confidence being nudged into the limelight. Since the project is about John and Amanda, however, the attention on the children is spread thinly, far too thinly for any one story to have much substance.
School Life is a nice film about lovely people but lacks the narrative structure to support itself.
School Life is released in selected cinemas on 13th October 2017.
Watch the trailer for School Life here: