Thanks to the school of La Grange aux Belles in Paris, we witness their predominantly language based programme for immigrant children wanting to advance into regular classes. Patience is key when in the classroom, and as these kids struggle with the French language the very understanding Miss Cervoni demonstrates an ideal equilibrium between crunching down on her pupils and being warm and welcoming when it comes to guidance. The class consists of children ranging from ages 11-15 and from various countries all around the world. Even in a classroom full of children the same age and from similar backgrounds, issues may arise and here the problems are second to none.
In the main, this hour and a half is pretty straight forward. We are immediately placed in the classroom and introduced to the numerous immigrant children and how they are progressing in this Parisian secondary school. The film’s lengthy opening perfectly paves the way for the overall tone as each child shows the class how to write and annunciate ‘Hallo’ in their own language. This is a multi-cultural classroom and the only way of communicating with each other at this stage is their minimal François. Despite the enthusiasm and the desire to share traditions and teachings from their homelands, each and every one of these kids has much deeper problems that they carry on their shoulders. As the film progresses we see just how damaged these kids and indeed their families really are.
One girl, Rama, is lucky enough to be here after narrowly escaping the harsh treatment that her father was subjecting her to back in Senegal. Whilst another has been separated from her mother for over a decade and the quiet shy Chinese Xin barely knows her own mother as she is constantly working day and night to pay her way. When discovering the reasons why these children are here in the first place is truly heart-breaking. It is deeply affecting and when their classmates hear their stories, some of the children (and critics) even resort to tears.
This is a struggle between age, culture and class. These children are here trying to make a better future for themselves. Some relish in the opportune moment they have been granted and some simply do not. Bertuccelli takes us on an emotional roller-coaster that rarely hits the brakes. School of Babel is a touching documentary, with a certain charm that represents hope and new life for children whose primary background could not provide for them.