‘Un Film Dramatique’ Review: Students Record the Paris Suburbs

In the documentary “Un Film Dramatique,” the artist Éric Baudelaire fulfills a commission to make a dedicated artwork for Dora Maar, a newly constructed middle school in the Saint-Denis suburb of Paris. For the project, Baudelaire filmed 21 students across four years, and he encouraged them to take up the camera themselves. The finished film demonstrates the liveliness and generosity that can come from civic-minded art.

The movie passes by in informal episodes. The filmmakers set up games and debates, encouraging classmates to discuss what they think the movie will be about. The students consider what it means to be the subjects and creators of a documentary, and in turn, they reckon with how their school fits into the world around them.

These adolescents are working class, often the children of immigrants, and they scoff at the rough reputation that Saint-Denis carries in Paris. With cameras in their hands, they build their own records about what life is like in the suburbs. They dance, they sing, they offer house tours. Each child is confident, curious and collaborative.

The movie has a patchwork quality that comes from jumping in and out of different people’s vantage points. Some scenes are riveting, as when the French-Romanian student Gabriel-David debates his French-Ivorian classmate, Guy-Yanis, over what it means to have a country of origin if you’ve never lived there. But just as many sequences are banal — kids filming themselves watching TV as if they were streaming on Instagram Live.

It’s the cumulative effect of seeing the world through the eyes of these children that makes this movie so deeply joyful. This is a heartening project, a philosophical excavation of a school that abounds with playful optimism.

Un Film Dramatique
Not rated. In French, with subtitles. Running time: Running time: 1 hour 54 minutes. Watch through virtual cinemas.

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