Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Our School

Mona Nicoara and Miruna Coca-Cozma's documentary unfolds in Romania, but its depiction of multi-generational poverty perpetuated in part by substandard schooling could as easily have been set in dozens of other countries.

Jan 18, 2013

-By Maitland McDonagh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1370318-Our_School_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

In 2006, the Romanian government distributed special education grants to 30 small towns; the funds were earmarked for efforts to get the children of Roma—or gypsy—families out of segregated, low-performing local schools and into the educational mainstream.

One such town, Targu Lapis, allowed filmmakers to document their efforts to integrate more than a dozen children from Dileu, a muddy, isolated and impoverished Roma "neighborhood"—shantytown might be a better description—into a school in the town center. They range in age from six or seven to teens, and their education to date has clearly been catch-as-catch-can.

Filmmakers Mona Nicoara and Miruna Coca-Cozma focus on three personable and articulate youngsters, two boys and a girl. The youngest is eight-year-old Alin, whose scrappy, devil-may-care bravado belies a prickly sensitivity to veiled slights and insults. The oldest is Dana, a pretty 16-year-old who's already working to help support her family; she’s equally conscious of the way ethnic Romanians, even the ones who think of themselves as broad-minded and tolerant, condescend to her. But she has brains and discipline, and wants to do more with her life than herd other people's cattle and do housework for the "gadje," the Roma word for non-gypsies. Chubby, 12-year-old Beni is in the middle; his cheerful disposition and love of soccer have the potential to allow him to make friends outside his own community and perhaps get a foothold in the non-Roma world.

All three have the support of their families, but the odds are clearly against them. After the first couple of days, when they're driven into town in a small cart, the kids have to walk the two-and-a-half miles from Dileu, and all their parents' efforts can't hide the fact that they wash up with buckets of cold water and wear hand-me-down clothes. Even the youngest Roma children are far behind their peers in basic skills, from penmanship to rudimentary addition and subtraction.

Their teachers range from sympathetic to hostile. One quits halfway through the semester rather than continue to deal with them, seeing "violence in their blood" rather than the restlessness of kids unused to classroom routines. Another starts out frustrated and wary, only visiting Dileu to find out why some kids have stopped showing up for class when the filmmakers agree to accompany her. But she gradually realizes they just need extra encouragement and attention, which a third recognizes from the start. The younger kids play with their classmates at recess, but that's as far as it generally goes: The moment when one Romanian mother, whose son regularly plays soccer with the newcomers, pointedly asks about the dirty words he picked up from them speaks volumes.

Our School's final, four-years-later summation—more than a coda, less than a fully fleshed-out segment—falls somewhere between starry optimism and resignation, and it's remarkably affecting in the way real life often is. Dana, Beni and Alin's lives have changed...not dramatically, but appreciably, and it's hard not to come away with a new (or renewed) respect for the potential power of baby steps.


Film Review: Our School

Mona Nicoara and Miruna Coca-Cozma's documentary unfolds in Romania, but its depiction of multi-generational poverty perpetuated in part by substandard schooling could as easily have been set in dozens of other countries.

Jan 18, 2013

-By Maitland McDonagh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1370318-Our_School_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

In 2006, the Romanian government distributed special education grants to 30 small towns; the funds were earmarked for efforts to get the children of Roma—or gypsy—families out of segregated, low-performing local schools and into the educational mainstream.

One such town, Targu Lapis, allowed filmmakers to document their efforts to integrate more than a dozen children from Dileu, a muddy, isolated and impoverished Roma "neighborhood"—shantytown might be a better description—into a school in the town center. They range in age from six or seven to teens, and their education to date has clearly been catch-as-catch-can.

Filmmakers Mona Nicoara and Miruna Coca-Cozma focus on three personable and articulate youngsters, two boys and a girl. The youngest is eight-year-old Alin, whose scrappy, devil-may-care bravado belies a prickly sensitivity to veiled slights and insults. The oldest is Dana, a pretty 16-year-old who's already working to help support her family; she’s equally conscious of the way ethnic Romanians, even the ones who think of themselves as broad-minded and tolerant, condescend to her. But she has brains and discipline, and wants to do more with her life than herd other people's cattle and do housework for the "gadje," the Roma word for non-gypsies. Chubby, 12-year-old Beni is in the middle; his cheerful disposition and love of soccer have the potential to allow him to make friends outside his own community and perhaps get a foothold in the non-Roma world.

All three have the support of their families, but the odds are clearly against them. After the first couple of days, when they're driven into town in a small cart, the kids have to walk the two-and-a-half miles from Dileu, and all their parents' efforts can't hide the fact that they wash up with buckets of cold water and wear hand-me-down clothes. Even the youngest Roma children are far behind their peers in basic skills, from penmanship to rudimentary addition and subtraction.

Their teachers range from sympathetic to hostile. One quits halfway through the semester rather than continue to deal with them, seeing "violence in their blood" rather than the restlessness of kids unused to classroom routines. Another starts out frustrated and wary, only visiting Dileu to find out why some kids have stopped showing up for class when the filmmakers agree to accompany her. But she gradually realizes they just need extra encouragement and attention, which a third recognizes from the start. The younger kids play with their classmates at recess, but that's as far as it generally goes: The moment when one Romanian mother, whose son regularly plays soccer with the newcomers, pointedly asks about the dirty words he picked up from them speaks volumes.

Our School's final, four-years-later summation—more than a coda, less than a fully fleshed-out segment—falls somewhere between starry optimism and resignation, and it's remarkably affecting in the way real life often is. Dana, Beni and Alin's lives have changed...not dramatically, but appreciably, and it's hard not to come away with a new (or renewed) respect for the potential power of baby steps.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Tracks
Film Review: Tracks

Ably supported by Adam Driver, Mia Wasikowska commands the screen in John Curran’s superbly photographed drama based on a true story. More »

Hollidaysburg
Film Review: Hollidaysburg

Well-observed, empathetic look at friends reuniting over their first college break. More »

The Zero Theorem
Film Review: The Zero Theorem

A noisy, hyperkinetic, visually gorgeous spectacle that tackles the mother of all big questions–the meaning of life—Terry Gilliam's latest is sometimes frustrating and occasionally outright goofy, but it's never dull. More »

Art and Craft
Film Review: Art and Craft

Documentary portrait of the artist as a disturbed man, but one who is overwhelmingly endearing, functioning and talented—and whose métier happens to be art forgery. This smartly produced and constructed art-themed art-house entry delivers a canvas of caper, comedy and delightful curiosities that engage and provoke some serious thought. Like the hero’s forgeries, it deserves a close look. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

The Maze Runner
Film Review: The Maze Runner

Youths try to break out of a deadly maze in the latest young-adult doomsday thriller. More »

This is Where I Leave You
Film Review: This Is Where I Leave You

Siblings bond, fight and face new problems after the death of their father in an ensemble dramedy based on the best-selling novel. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here