A Paris Education review – partying in Paris like it's 1968

A bunch of attractive young people study film, quote poetry and have sex, in a black and white drama fatally lacking narrative drive and passion

Here is a film that presumes greatly on the audience’s cinephile indulgence: a two-hour-plus monochrome drama about attractive young students arriving in Paris to study film, discuss politics, quote poetry, argue about movies and gain urgent access to each others’ pants. It’s the sort of thing that I usually roll over for. But there isn’t much in the way of lightness or plausibility. The all-too-guessable sad ending is worryingly glib and the final extended shot, over the adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth, comes close to unendurable.

Like a film by Philippe Garrel, this behaves at all times as if it is 1968, rather than the present day – which, as I say, need not have been a problem at all, if there was some authentic passion or narrative interest.

The original French title is Mes Provinciales, a twist on Pascal’s Les Provinciales, and fledgling film student Etienne (played by Adranic Manet in a Mogadon torpor of hollow-eyed sensitivity) arrives in the capital from Lyon, that provincial place whose historic connection to cinema is unmentioned. He quickly dumps his hometown girlfriend, Lucie (Diane Rouxel), and has a romantic moment with flatmate Valentina (Jenna Thiam), while lusting for activist Annabelle (Sophie Verbeeck), and finally falling for Barbara (Valentine Catzéflis) who works in the TV company where Etienne is humiliatingly forced to work reading scripts to get some cash. (That actually sounds like a pretty plum job.)

But at college he comes under the spell of moody, charismatic cine-revolutionary Mathias (Corentin Fila) who is always denouncing the flaccid mediocrity of other people’s work, saying that it doesn’t have the vitality of “Vigo or Ford”, while not letting anyone see the short film he’s working on. The audience might wonder if they will get to see this – or indeed Etienne’s own short film, The Cheater.

Etienne and Annabelle go to see Paradjanov’s The Colour of Pomegranates, and she falls asleep because it is “too intense”. Blasphemous though it is to say it, maybe they should have gone to see Bad Boys for Life, starring Martin Lawrence and Will Smith.

• A Paris Education is released in the UK on 14 February.

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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