'Corrections Class' ('Class Correktsi'): Kinotavr Review

Corrections Class Still - H 2014
New People

Corrections Class Still - H 2014

Strong performances elevate this bleak portrait of special-needs education, Russian-style.

Russian director Ivan Tverdovsky’s drama, winner of the prize for Best Debut at Sochi’s Kinotavr festival, explores the dynamics amongst a group of disabled teenagers

Offering further evidence that — in the wake of 2012’s Anton’s Right Here and the recent Cannes Critics’ Week winner The Tribe — the former Soviet Union is a lousy place to raise children with special needs, director Ivan Tverdovsky’s drama Corrections Class focuses on a gaggle of disabled teens in a Russian high school. Ghettoized and neglected by the school and bullied by their peers, the kids turn on each other when the fragile balance of the group is thrown out of whack by the arrival of a newcomer. Progressively disturbing but not without moments of humor, joy and grace, Corrections Class won the best debut prize at Sochi’s Kinotavr festival and plays in Karlovy Vary’s East-of the-West competition.

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Set in what looks like a pretty nondescript, typically cruddy-looking suburb that could be anywhere in Russia, the story revolves around a large school incorporating both elementary and secondary school-aged children, a structure that could just as easily pass for a factory or a mental asylum. On her way to her first day at school, pretty 11th-grader Lena (Maria Poezhaeva), who has myopathy which confines her mostly to a wheelchair, and her mother (Natalia Pavlenkova) have to wait to cross a railway line. Another teenager has been killed on the tracks, sounding a somewhat too obvious symbolic note of doom.

At school, Lena and her mom are told off by the officious principal (veteran Natalya Domeretskaya) for being late even though the building has no wheelchair ramps or elevators which means Lena has to make the slow, painful walk up the stairs on foot. She soon meets her peers in the corrections class, a sort of holding pen for physically and mentally challenged students, most of whom would probably be blended into the mainstream in settings with a more enlightened attitude toward disability. Shy, handsome Anton (Filipp Avdeev), for instance, has epilepsy. Another girl (Maria Uryadova) has dwarfism. Mitya (Artyom Markaryan) has a stutter, while his sister Vitya (Yulia Serina) reports she’s not actually sick at all. It’s never revealed what’s supposed to be amiss with ringleader Misha (Nikita Kukushkin), who seems perfectly able-bodied if clearly damaged psychologically, judging by later events.

All the kids will soon be assessed at an upcoming, cross-body commission about whether they can be blended into the mainstream. Some, like Lena, hope this will be the case in order to improve her future job prospects, but others have given up all hope of integration.

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At first, sparky, naturally defiant Lena fits right into the core gang, who bring her along, despite her limited mobility, on their excursions to the railway tracks where they like to play games of chicken by lying down on the tracks and letting trains whizz over them. She, in turn, teaches them how to beg for money to buy booze and candy. Although Misha is clearly attracted to her, she soon pairs up with Anton, but their budding romance creates jealousy in the group and sparks outrage among the adult world when the two are caught making out in the toilet and later are caught in flagrante delicto in bed by Anton’s vilely prejudiced mother (Olga Lapshina).

The third act takes a brutal turn, even judging by the standards of so-often relentlessly pessimistic Russian drama. A cruel act of vandalism is swiftly followed by an attempted gang rape and beating and, just to top things off, the much-anticipated commission turns out to be an exercise in humiliation with the school authorities and medical professionals riding rough-shod over the wishes of parents and children.

Even so, it’s refreshing that Dmitri Lanchikhin and Tverdovsky’s script, freely adapted from a novel by Ekaterina Murashova, takes pains to point out that at least some of the adult figures aren’t completely callous. There are subtle hints that underfunding, poor training and the endemic xenophobia of Russian society are the real villains here.

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Although the leads are trained actors, mostly students at director Kirill Serebrennikov’s theater academy, the performances from non-professional performers blend seamlessly with the ensemble, evincing a proper directorial skills from Tverdovsky. Shot mostly on handheld rigs by DoP Fedor Struchev, the film has some of that immediacy and ebullience seen in the better high-school-set films, like Laurent Cantet’s The Class.

Production companies: A Noviy Lyudi (New People), Jomani Film Production, with the support of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation
Cast: Maria Poezhaeva, Filipp Avdeev, Nikita Kukushkin, Olga Lapshina, Natalia Pavlenkova, Yulia Serina, Artyom Markaryan, Maria Uryadova, Natalya Domeretskaya
Director: Ivan Tverdovsky
Screenwriters: Dmitri Lanchikhin, Ivan Tverdovsky, based on the novel by Ekaterina Murashova
Producers: Natasha Mokritskaya, Uliana Savelieva, Mila Rozanova
Director of photography: Fedor Struchev
Production designers: Ivan Tverdovsky, Fedor Struchev, Renat Gonibov
Costume designer: Anna Chistova
Editor: Ivan Tverdovsky
Sales: Noviy Lyudi (New People)
No rating, 89 minutes