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Passe ton bac d'abord
cast: Sabine Haudepin, Philippe Marlaud, Annick Alane, Michel Caron, and Christian Bouillette

director: Maurice Pialat

81 minutes (15) 1979
widescreen ratio 16:9
Eureka DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by James A. Stewart
In French education parlance 'le bac' is akin to graduation and in the insightful Passe ton bac d'abord we follow the dreary lives of a bunch kids near school-leaving age in bleak northern France, as they fight the twin evils of apathy and boredom.

Made in 1979, this film has been re-mastered to coincide with its 30th anniversary. The gritty realism of the period comes across in bounds, and whilst the French didn't suffer the same level of financial meltdown as Britain did, it was still a time when the socialists in Europe were under increasing attack for some of the many postwar policy failures. The consensus period had well and truly ended by 1979.

Against this backdrop, a group of schoolmates are depicted doing exactly what apathetic youths did at the time. They take school with about as much seriousness as a Jack Black film, wandering with aimless lethargy from relationship to relationship. One marries for want of a better thing to do, not for love. They all see their parents as unfair bullies who preach job stability and common sense. Not what a teenager wants to hear.

They have dreams and grand plans but no energy to follow them through. They want everything but don't want to do anything achieve their desires. Director Maurice Pialat delivers a real life-affirming piece here by not delivering much action or suspense. Instead, in documentary style, he follows the mundane actions of the teenagers as they set about their daily lives. By avoiding dramatics he gives us a movie in which the ennui of rural living in northern France is highlighted. The hope is extraneous, and the dreams just that. In an understated way, Pialat captures beautifully the mood of the era with its lack of hope and choice. The expectations to lead a 'good life' and assimilate, and the smothering burdens of parental and social presumption, are sublime in their representation as the overarching themes of boredom, laziness and procrastination, are drip-fed to the viewer.

At times, Passe ton bac d'abord comes across as a documentary following the lives of the youth of the day with subtle observations on characters, life and attitude being the main aim on the film. Pialat's ability to make this action-less piece enthralling is testament to his guidance and light touch on the small details throughout. There are moments of genuine humour and angst, and I can imagine this movie would have caused serious bouts of introspection amongst French teenagers upon its release.

It doesn't take a genius to guess that this movie is filmed in French with English subtitles, and I personally feel that any non-English language movie is best watched in its mother tongue in order to get some of the universal intonations and quirks of how the dialogue is being delivered. This is an excellent introduction to the work of Pialat.

DVD extras include theatrical trailers for other Pialat films which are to be converted to DVD and a retrospective piece with some of the original cast of Passe ton bac d'abord.

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