Irish students and youngsters in other countries that are burdened with rigid educational institutions will get a kick out of “How to Cheat in the Leaving Certificate,” a wryly comic look at the elaborate master plan of a bunch of friends to steal a notoriously demanding exam. Shot in black-and-white, this low-budgeter, which exhibits the work of a very young (23) and talented director , should play the global festival circuit as a sample of Irish guerrilla filmmaking, but with better chances for theatrical display in European than American markets.
Director Graham Jones, also the co-writer and co-producer, dedicates himself to a perennial concern of students — namely, how to beat the system. To that end, he constructs a rather whimsical tale, one that details the ingeniously methodical plan of half a dozen comrades to help their friend cheat in every subject of a comprehensive test known as the Leaving Certificate.
In the pre-credits sequence, a stern instructor informs his already petrified students: “Your entire lifetime will be determined by what you’ll do in three hours. Failure in the certificate is failure in life.” It doesn’t help matters that there have been attempted and successful suicides over the dreaded exam.
Using droll humor that is occasionally laced with irony, tale describes the recruitment of six characters, all sworn to utmost secrecy, to execute the outrageous plan. What justifies the action, from the students’ point of view, is the suffering they endure within an educational system that’s outdated, limited in scope and impractical in the kind of knowledge it imparts.
Once the premise has been set and central characters established, the film becomes less funny and more suspenseful regarding the final outcome of the scandalous act. Compensating for the plot’s narrow focus are the helmer’s bold visual style and the intermittently witty voiceover narration.
Relying for the most part on close-ups of his appealing thesps, Jones shot his movie in B&W Super 16mm, later blown up to a satisfying 35mm format. The director overcomes the limitations of an extremely small budget with considerable technical panache that helps evoke a fanciful mood but doesn’t slight the tale’s more serious points.