School is Over -- Film Review

Gentle troubled teen drama shows teachers can need just as much help as the kids. 

ROME -- The documentary-like “School is Over,” a tale of troubled youth-meets-dedicated teachers, by filmmaker-high school teacher Valerio Jalongo is for the most part refreshingly devoid of facile rhetoric or implausibly triumphant character arcs. It is instead the story of three people who briefly form a disjointed family, whose members need one another whether they know it or not.

While serious in tone, the film is never heavy-handed. Only in the very end are we subjected to some obvious lecturing, lest we miss the point that “the system” does not allow for humanity or individuality. Yet even this is low-key given the usually formulaic nature of the genre. The spartan, realistic look and feel of “School is Over” will relegate this well-acted film to a limited release in Italy although it may travel to international festivals.

 Alex (Fulvio Forti), a small-time drug dealer being raised by a flighty single mother (Antonella Ponziani), is failing high school and dreams only of joining the father he never knew in Australia. He is assigned after-school tutoring from science teacher Daria (Valeria Golino) and transferred into the class of Aldo (Vincenzo Amato), who is in the process of divorcing Daria, which is clearly not his idea.

Alex is benignly indifferent (and often high), seemingly beyond help, but Daria is idealistically convinced he can be saved. Aldo less so. When he discovers Alex has a talent for music and poetry, he tries to lift the teenager out of his stupor with guitar lessons. Alex responds in fits and starts, and defiantly makes Aldo own up to his own destructive apathy.

Aldo and Daria quarrel over how to help Alex as if he were the child they never had. This nicely allows Amato and Golino a greater outlet for rendering the subtle yet ongoing push/pull of their characters' relationship, which is far from resolved. (Golino and Amato last appeared together as husband and wife in Emanuele Crialese's “Respiro.”)

Amato mixes pathetic and cool well. A closet rocker, he's almost as lost as the kids he's meant to be guiding. Golino does not caricature Daria's idealism as naiveté or liberal earnestness. In few strokes she captures the vulnerability of a 40-year-old woman whose only — unwanted and inappropriate — suitor is the shy Alex.

Newcomer Forti also gives a strong performance, his vacant stare in the beginning of the film slowly giving way to timid smiles and genuine pain as his barriers are broken by his new, unlikely companions. But it is precisely the out-of-school relationships with both teachers, especially Aldo, that creates problems, and leads to the film's preachy ending.

The hand-held camera hugs the actors while the editing gently alternates between the stories to set an emotional pace that maintains sympathy for all three characters. The music ranges from rock to sometimes only crackling interference through an amp, which works surprisingly well.

Venue: Rome International Film Festival (Competition)
Production companies: Ameuropa International (Italy), Amka Films (Switzerland)
Co-production companies: RAI Cinema, RSI - RadioTelevisione Svizzera, SRG SSR Idee Suisse, Frame by Frame
Sales: Adriana Chiesa Enterprises
Cast: Valeria Golino, Vincenzo Amato, Fulvio Forti, Antonella Ponziani, Marcello Mazzarella
Director: Valerio Jalongo
Screenwriters: Valerio Jalongo, Francesca Marciano, Daniele Luchetti, Alfredo Covelli
Producers: Giampiero Romaldi, Tiziana Soudani
Director of photography: Stefano Falivene
Production designer: Giada Calabria
Music: Francesco Sarcina
Costume designer:  Valentina Taviani
Editor: Mirco Garrone
No rating, 85 minutes