Adapted from a play by Jean-Marie Besset, Grande école auspiciously opens to a lavish party and fireworks display in commemoration of Bastille Day, an overt metaphor for the young men and women in the film who have completed their baccalaureate degrees and are about to shed their insular home lives for shared student dormitories and a rigorous academic curriculum in order to prepare them for their future roles as corporate and world leaders. Although recalling the social, sexual, cultural, and even political power struggles of R. W. Fassbinder’s cinema (along with his uninhibited treatment of human sexuality), Robert Solis (whose work is primarily documentary) lacks the iconic German filmmaker’s ability to sustain dynamic tension and create essentially flawed, but nevertheless endearingly human characters. Instead, what results is a tenuous amalgam of superficial insights into elitism and class stratification, sexual politics, psychological manipulation, and race relations that attempts to correlate (with limited success) the students’ real-life lessons within the privileged walls of the great institution with the inherently complex, isolating, and heartbreaking machinations of their self-inflicted and resolutely mapped out destinies.
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