Despite a strong beginning and some powerful moments, the intense, narrowly focused “Class Trip” is only intermittently involving, emotionally or intellectually. Several of Claude Miller’s movies have traveled festival and arthouse roads in North America, but Warners should expect a modest response to a film that may be embraced by Miller fans but is likely to divide more discerning critics and viewers, as it depicts (rather than illuminates) the traumatic experience of one boy’s winter vacation.
In this visually compelling evocation of a troubled childhood, Miller revisits the turf of some of his earlier pictures — specifically “The Best Way to Walk,” which was also set in a holiday camp, and his adolescence dramas “An Impudent Girl” and “The Little Thief.”
Unlike Neil Jordan’s “The Butcher Boy,” which offered a brilliant, darkly humorous look at the inner workings of a tormented and violent childhood, “Class Trip” addresses its subject as a serious psychological drama, failing to provide an absorbing p.o.v. and ultimately giving the impression that an adult perspective has been imposed on the unique universe of children.
When the tale begins, the frail and melancholy Nicolas (Clement Van Den Bergh) is about to embark on a school skiing trip. A professional worrier, his insecure father (Francois Roy) raises numerous questions about the safety of the trip, spurred by a recent bus accident in which 15 children were killed. Refusing to let Nicolas take the bus like all the other kids, he opts to drive him to the camp, a journey that increases the boy’s anxieties on every level.
Upon arrival at the camp — a remote, beautiful spot in snow-covered woods — Nicolas forgets to take his bag from the car, thus beginning an endless ordeal that materializes most of his phobias. Hodkann (Lokman Nalcakan), a wild, undisciplined kid, lends him pajamas and a tentative friendship begins.
Blessed with a fertile imagination and a set of real problems to match, Nicolas engages in daydreams and nightmares to the point where, as he says, “I would rather make myself stop sleeping than have my fantasies.”
Film’s major chapters visualize Nicolas’ horrific stories as he experiences them and as he shares them with Hodkann. His fantasies are dominated by torture and violence, with visions of his father’s death in a bloody car accident.
Early on, Nicolas asks, “Is it true that when you think very hard about something it really happens?” — a question that becomes the film’s central theme. As it turns out, Nicolas’ reality at the camp proves to be much more frightening and traumatic than his cruelest fantasy. Unfortunately, midsection contains so many illustrations of Nicolas’ tormented mind that they progressively yield diminishing returns.
Based on a 1995 novel by Emmanuel Carrere, which was inspired by a news item, “Class Trip” seems satisfied with simply portraying Nicolas’ mental anguish, without framing it in any discernible dramatic perspective. Result is a film that suffers from repetition of imagery and ideas and one that is more perplexing than truly disturbing or provocative.
Well cast, Van Den Bergh has a sad, expressive face, but most of the time he’s by himself, with only limited interaction with the instructors and other kids. The close-ups Miller lavishes on him don’t help make his character more sympathetic or engaging. In general, pic is cold and distanced, lacking the subtlety and emotional nuance that characterize Miller’s better efforts.
That said, well-mounted production is polished in every respect, and exciting visuals by lenser Guillaume Schiffman provide considerable rewards for the eyes while the mind eagerly awaits psychological insights that never arrive.