26 January 1999 | Jim-249
Don't miss this film, if it comes your way: I strongly recommend it.
Gérard Corbiau's films always promise us at least two treats: visual excitement and splendid music. "The Music Master" and "Farinelli" had obvious grounds for indulging in both of these, this film less so, since there is no obvious connection with music and no chance for lavish, period costuming. Nevertheless, he gives the story of a lonely youngster's (François') experiences in an army school a rich score throughout (Fauré, De Falla, Grieg, Schubert, Beethoven), subtly underlining emotional moments. Visually, he gives us stunning scenes of Provence landscapes, but in fact every shot is carefully composed, so that even mundane subjects (a schoolroom, a dormitory) are alive with interest. It's an absorbing film, moving in the way it intermingles brutality and gentleness. François himself is both a boxer and a writer/poet. In a memorable scene, a grumpy, unsympathetic French teacher suddenly reveals to his startled pupils that he survived Dachau - François and his class here learn about real cruelty. It's packed with incident, rich in characters, and you do get emotionally involved in the predicament of a sensitive, determined youngster, confused about God, love and injustice, while knowing that his training will lead him overseas to the war in Indochina. Yet the story suffers from one of the common problems of novel-adaptations : short-cutting the narrative so that motivation becomes confused. The handsome Julien (the 'Chef' = sergeant-in-charge) decorates the scene, but it's never really clear why he feels so protective towards François, and we never fully understand his violent relationship with his wife Lena. More importantly, it's not easy to accept the depth of the attraction between François and the wife. I took the first nude scene to be a dream, a fantasy - but I was wrong, and by the end of the film it's clear that their love is genuine and lasting. (Disturbing, too, is the nagging worry about nude scenes involving such a young actor. . . ). But don't miss this film, if it comes your way: I strongly recommend it.