The General

Summary : In her high school, Christine is the main teacher of a second class. For his students, a single objective: to pass in “general”. More than a sector, it is a social passport. But Christine has seen her profession change year after year. Surrounded by a group of teachers, she will fight to snatch these “kids” from social determinism.

Critical : No, the general in no way refers to a rank in the Armed Forces, even if the teaching staff, like the military, must be equipped with organization and authority. Perhaps this title could evoke the theater (the general is the name given to the last rehearsal before the public performance), this microcosm where, as in a school establishment, it is appropriate to capture the attention and to open the spirit. Because it is indeed at the heart of National Education that this documentary, never whiny and often funny, concocted by Valentine Varela, director of four short films invariably dealing with failure and abandonment, immerses us.

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In this high school, as in all the others, the second class is general. But here the level of education is very low and most students will not have access to this general stream, which has been perceived for generations as the only key to an honorable professional career, and will be directed to this “techno”, deemed disqualifying. A fight then begins where students and teachers, driven by the same desire for success, weave a close bond despite the difficulties of all kinds and the general disinterest. It is this path paved with laughter and doubts, commitment and seriousness, loneliness and solidarity, that the filmmaker describes, seduced by the energy of Christine, professor of Life and Earth Sciences, and of his colleagues, all devoted to the students. Even if the French education system no longer allows you to miss much, everyone invests in this profession of transmission and self-sacrifice which requires a constant renewal of energy, as symbolized, from the opening of the film, the images of a group of people who have come to breathe fresh air by the sea before returning to the protective and agitated enclave of this so-called difficult high school.

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For a year, Valentine Varela and her cinematographer set up their camera two to three times a week in the establishment. Quite enough to identify the charismatic characters who magnetize the lens… Christine, experienced in the exercise of the iron fist in a velvet glove, is fascinating in her role as leader. His sex education course, between relaxation and precision, would be enough, on its own, to convince the biggest dunces to go back to school. An accomplished pedagogue, Maureen shares with us her happiness at having been able to awaken, thanks to her baroque workshop initiative, the artistic sense and unexpected taste for rhetoric of these declared uneducated young people, whose spontaneity and liveliness nevertheless make the salt of this beautiful moment of cinema. Imen and Salah, endearing troublemakers, punctuate the film with their outspokenness and resourcefulness. The words of Imen, rebellious at will and with easy repartee, contribute to the development of dialogues worthy of the best screenwriters.

In recent years, many films have focused on the neglect of the education system, but The General is not another lost film among many others. Its realistic and uninhibited point of view, its actors more real than fictional characters, its fluid editing wisely sow moments of grace and humanity at the heart of a serious subject which has the good idea not to take seriously.

The General – Valentine Varela – review