Dir/Wri: Thomas Lilti | Cast: Vincent Lacoste, Francois Cluzet, Louise Bourgoin, Adele Exarchopoulos, Mustapha Abourachid | France Comedy Drama 101′
Real life pals Adèle Exarchopoulos and Vincent Lacoste star in this amusing schoolroom drama – they were last seen giggling together on the Red Carpet at Cannes for the premiere of Elemental.
A Proper Job is the latest from French writer/director Thomas Lilti whose sobering sophomore feature Hippocrates saw Lacoste as a junior doctor thrown into the deep end at the Hospital Rothschild in Paris. This time he’s Benjamin Barrois, a junior tutor with no experience – and it shows – trying to finance his PhD at a Normandy secondary school with few resources. And his first day teaching rowdy adolescents certainly gets off to a bad start when a more senior colleague mistakes him for an intern, in front of the class. This doesn’t help his cause.
True to say that many otherwise decent kids can be monsters in the classroom and that’s certainly the case here. Benjamin lurches from crisis to crisis as Lilti demonstrates in semi-documentary style the many pitfalls of being a schoolteacher nowadays. And we’ve already seen these situations in films like The Hunt (2012), Mr Backmann and His Class (2021) and most recently in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s About Dry Grasses (2023).
So when one of his pupils, an unruly kid with a troubled home-life, refuses to respect the simple code of class conduct Benjamin has a problem on his hands, then the boy files a complaint with the school head (Abourachid) that leads to a disciplinary process.
Lacoste is such a versatile actor you can’t help liking his portrayal of Benjamin: he can be serious but there’s always a cheeky glint in his eye. And when he joins a surfing break in Biarritz with other members of the staff there are moments of high tension and the camaraderie between the colleagues is really put to the test. They support each other unfailingly when the chips are down.
Lilti fleshes out the backstories of the other teachers: Pierre (Cluzet) is having marital difficulties, and single parent Meriem (Exarchopoulos) is struggling to teach her own kid while juggling her career. Another teacher Sandrine (Bourgoin) is pushed to the limit in a livid classroom confrontation.
Lilti never looks for simple solutions in his well-paced script, and the finale is spectacular. A really good cast and a sympathetic treatment of the issues involved make this another convincing feature from a much deserving director who has so far received 14 nominations but never won a prize. Let’s hope he will soon. MT
IN CINEMAS IN FRANCE | SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2023