Quick recap: 4 boys in a strict boarding school make a plan to attack the adults and bring revolution.
Fun (?) fact: Not so much ‘fun’, but ‘inevitable’: immediately after its release, it was banned completely until 1946.
My thoughts: As a teacher, I’ve become used to the various complaints and insults directed at me by kids. Hate homework? I get it, but you still have to do it. I’m making you work too hard and now your hand hurts? got it, don’t care. Eat your shorts? Whatever, Bart Simpson. Children hating school is a fact of life, and movies depicting this is pretty standard. But Zero for Conduct is in its own realm of absurdity and anarchy, and I’m still not quite sure what I watched.
Before you read any further, If…. was directly inspired by Zero for Conduct and although I don’t think they improved on anything, it’s still an interesting companion to this film.
The first scenes of the film were a little underwhelming, since I was expecting full anarchy from the get-go. Instead, the story starts with two boys in a train car, on their way to boarding school. It was kind of like Harry Potter, but without the magic and happiness. The boys start pulling toys out of their jackets to impress each other, like feathers and balloons. It’s silly and made me wonder what counted as ‘bad behavior’ back then, because if this is it, then all those people who say, ‘back in my day, kids didn’t act like they do today’, are quite correct. And really, throughout the entire movie, I didn’t see anything too scandalous from the boys or even from the administration and teachers. In one scene, a couple of boys are roughhousing and the prefect (NOT a Weasley), makes them stand at the foot of the bed for awhile. It was weird, but I wouldn’t call it cruel or abusive. Many of the scenes involved the boys being made to work, which of course they don’t want to do and so they decide to start a war during their school’s Commemoration Day ceremony. I read in many places that the school was very strict and rigid, which I guess was true, but that’s what I thought boarding schools were about. The only thing objectionable I saw was that the boys were made to eat beans everyday, so….probably not worth a battle.
I guess the confusing part (just like If….) was that I didn’t know who to sympathize with. The boys were annoying and, well…..boyish. There was bathroom humor and smoking and roughhousing, which didn’t endear them to me. The school itself didn’t invoke much sympathy, either. The adults all had something weird going on, like one who did handstands in class and then the president who was a little person. I guess it was just all very weird. And the war itself ended up being all of the boys locking themselves in an attic and refusing to participate, while the four main boys threw random things at the adults. Revolution indeed, children.
Final review: 2/5. Did I mention it was a French film? Probably not a surprise, given its absurdity.
Up next: Hoop Dreams