“Foreign Student” is a borderline trite but basically sweet, nostalgic memoir of a French boy’s formative semester at a Virginia college and his impossible romance with a bright black girl, circa 1955. Directing debut by still photog Eva Sereny is attractively lensed and leads are appealing, but B.O. prospects for old-fashioned pic look modest.
Based on Philippe Labro’s hit 1986 novel, the story of exchange student Philippe Le Clerc (Marco Hofschneider) and April (Robin Givens), the beautiful “Negro girl” who memorizes Byron and speaks correspondence-school French when she’s not cleaning faculty houses, is punctuated by references to those aspects of U.S. culture that hold a special place in the collective French heart — blues and jazz, Faulkner, Chandler and Salinger.
In lieu of true bite, pic draws its humor and somewhat forced poignance from the radical differences between le football (soccer) and American football, and from Philippe’s acceptance of blacks compared with Southern segregation.
Tale is awash in period details and nicely portrayed stock characters: The hunky quarterback who shows Philippe the ropes (Rick Johnson), the paternal professor who takes the new kid under his wing (Edward Herrmann), the Southern belle on the verge of a nervous breakdown (Charlotte Ross) and the worldly blues musicians (Charles Dutton as Howlin’ Wolf and Hinton Battle as Sonny Boy Williamson) who help the white boy out of a jam.
Givens is fine as the wise looker who knows her place but yearns for more, and German thesp Hofschneider (“Europa, Europa”) convinces as the sensitive Gallic interloper.
Location lensing in Paris and Virginia is slick, the ’50s-era production design evocative.