Review: School Life (La vie scolaire)

Zita Hanrot in School Life

School Life (La vie scolaire) is a French film about life in a Saint Denis middle school. It’s not an easy place to live, or go to school, or work in a school.

School Life (La vie scolaire) hones in on the year Samie (Zita Hanrot) came to work in the school. It was her first year as an educator. Her job was similar to what a guidance counselor or assistant principal would do in the U.S. She talked with parents and tried to guide students into doing the right thing.

Zita Hanrot in School Life
Samie worked with this group of monitors and counselors.

The students in the center of the story were the low performing kids. There were several, but the most important one was Yanis (Liam Pierron). Yanis, like many students in this neighborhood, was Algerian and spoke Arabic at home.

These kids were smart but unmotivated. They were rebellious while worried about their home situations – parents in prison, not enough food, lack of parenting.

Many of the teachers were at their wits ends with their students. The math teacher Messaous (Soufiane Guerrab) became Samie’s friend and helped her see how much good she was doing at the school when she felt defeated.

It was a hard film to watch. As a former educator myself I could really feel for the struggle the teachers had just to get through the day. The students were struggling too. There was so much conflict and upheaval in their lives and it carried into the classroom.

Most of the students were not professional actors. They did an excellent job. The film is in both French and Arabic. I don’t know if it’s a characteristic of Saint Denis, but the French was spoken so fast I could hardly catch any of it. I usually do pretty well with French language films but this really zipped.

The story was nothing like Bad Seeds (Mauvaises herbes), another French film about a school, but the kids were very similar. These kids reminded me a lot of the others. School Life (La vie scolaire) comes with grittier edges and not such a happy ending.

Poster for School Life

I couldn’t find a good trailer for you. If you locate the film on Netflix, there is a trailer there.

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