Review: ‘Late Graduates’

Suddenly unemployed after nearly 20 years on the job, two grown men decide to study for the high school diplomas they never got in "Late Graduates." Deftly constructed tale features engaging characters who imbue a deceptively simple premise with suspense and heart. Fests and family-themed niche distribs should enroll.

Suddenly unemployed after nearly 20 years on the job when their factory closes, two grown men decide to study for the high school diplomas they never got in “Late Graduates.” Deftly constructed tale features engaging characters who imbue a deceptively simple premise with suspense and heart. A nuanced feel-good narrative that comes by its good grade fair and square, universal story is also a window on what makes Gaul tick. Fests and family-themed niche distribs should enroll.

France’s Baccalaureat exam or “bac” is no mere formality like many a U.S. high school diploma. It’s a comprehensive essay test that most American college students would probably find daunting. Many French teens take off a year in order to study for the grueling exam, spanning the arts and sciences. It’s common to fail one’s Bac on the first try, so candidates are permitted to continue boning up and take it again a year later.

Hairdresser Claire (Anne Brochet) and quality control foreman Michel (Jacques Gamblin) have a loving marriage and are paying off the mortgage on their modest house in southwestern France. On the day the pic starts, their son Philippe (Edouard Collin) fails the Bac, and the factory at which Michel works shuts down.

Michel and his close friend Gerard (Kad Merad) are out of work, as is their former boss Edmond (Rufus), just two months shy of retirement. Michel and Gerard report to the unemployment bureau, where they learn that their decades of experience count for zilch without a Bac, and  opt to attend high school as auditors.

This puts father and son in the same program. Claire is supportive of the two men in her life but strains on the marriage follow as finances dwindle.

There’s as much humor as frustration as ex-boss Edmond throws himself into rigorous study with his two former employees.

Since her husband’s efforts are so visible, Claire endures irritating digs from certain townswomen, a situation aggravated by the fact that the beauty parlor expression for “Let’s wash your hair” is almost identical to “Pass your Bac.”

Pic touches upon societal upheaval, friendship, family, the limits of solidarity, the perils and rewards of personal initiative and more, with a light, thoughtful hand.

Tellingly, more and more French films are addressing the plight of young people who can’t get jobs and of older workers who find themselves unemployed and without prospects. This narrative points up flaws in a rigid system that isn’t particularly good at acknowledging real-world credentials.

Thesps are excellent, with special praise for Brochet and for Helene Vincent as Edmond’s buoyantly loyal but never smarmy spouse.

Use of a harsh English language song called “Fuck U” over the opening credits and at pertinent intervals is at first jarring, but proves appropriate.

Late Graduates

France

Production

A Bac Films release of a Magnificat Films presentation of a Magnificat Films, Bac Films production with participation of Canal Plus, TPS Star and support from the Aquitaine Region. (International sales: Bac Films Intl., Paris.) Produced by Laurent Thiry, Geraldine Ioos-Combelles. Directed by Renaud Bertrand. Screenplay, Sebastien Thibaudeau, Marc Herpoux, Dominique Merillon;

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Marc Koninckx; editor, Laurence Bawedin; music, Stephane Zidi; production designer, Jacques Houdin; costume designer, Alain Foucher; assistant director, Jean-Luc Roze. Reviewed at UGC Les Halles, Paris, June 20, 2006. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Jacques Gamblin, Kad Merad, Rufus, Anne Brochet, Helene Vincent, Edouard Collin, Valerie Kaprisky, Stephanie Sokolinski.
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