Escalation / Escalade

Dir. Charlotte Silvera

In 2008 after a prolonged interval French cinema won back the Palme d’Or in Cannes with the movie “Klass”. The event was followed by an avalanche of movies about discontent at school, which – just to be objective – reflected the real importance of the problems in French education. Last year Isabelle Adjani got a “Cesar” for “La journée de la jupe” where she defended herself with Moliere and Racine against a whole class of partially armed with the guns of the multicolored ignoramuses tribe. In contrast to the above mentioned movies, in “Escalade” a more exquisite group of schoolchildren will ring the doorbell of Alice Naba (played by Karmen Maura) on the day of her birthday. Their parents are fathers of the city, just one call from them is sufficient to save the life of the teacher’s mother who urgently needs a kidney transplant. In return they want answers to the forthcoming final tests. Their reasoning is rational, each has selected a path in life where he won’t need this or that subject. Their examples will put to shame Adjani’s teacher: “De Gaulle was unable to put two and two together, Kafka would have become Kafka even without mathematics”. They have at their disposal the latest gadgets, the super-phones which will let them, in case of a refusal – which they get, – instantly simulate an orgy with the participation of the teacher and circulate it over the Internet.

If to the Russian viewer it sounds familiar, he is right: we are dealing with a foreign interpretation of Lyudmila Razumovskaya’s play “Dear Elena Sergeevna”. The screen version by Eldar Ryazanov appeared at the height of Perestroika. It was rough and inappropriate (a disappointing miscalculation by our favorite director) like a dressing-down of pupils at a komsomol meeting for going to watch “Kabaret” instead of sitting at a lesson and aroused an uproar in the newspaper “Ucnitelskaya gazeta”. At the same time the debut work of the director of “Escalade” Charlotte Silvera called “Louise... l'insoumise” was released in our theatres. It remined almost unnoticed, but was full of compassion for the schoolchildren. Very well, mademoiselle Silvera and her schoolchildren have grown up and noticed that a new generation has succeeded them and it is full of shit. With all their gadgets they are shallow, have no life experience, have not lived through the dramas of life which provide the key to survival. In this sense it seems interesting to compare “Escalade” to the recent “Scream 4” which contains similar observations about the generation gap.

In the beginning of “Escalade” Karmen Maura dressed in a wrap-over dress (which, as Elisabeth Taylor used to say, beautifies the woman of any age and built) opens a bottle of port wine with a savoury “pop” to pour herself a morning glass and we immediately understand that unlike Razumovskaya’s play, the battle will not be fought against the background of the teacher mumbling about the classics and morality. With the inimitable possessed expression with which Maura added sleeping pills to gazpacho in “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”, the teacher stuffs mineral water with laxatives and emetics. Now one of the pupils can no longer leave the toilet and in the doorway he sees that the woman, who only a minute ago was unable to get up because of the leg trauma, is sneaking in the darkness with a knife. Her tormentors realize that with their idiotic phones they were unlucky enough to find themselves in the wrong cinema. The old cinema. With which the new cinema can never compare, in no epoch, ever. And their teacher is an actress from Almodovar’s movies of the time when he was still bursting with energy and could defend his eternally drunken characters with a leather lash.

Alexey Vasiliev