“Do you have as good a chance of becoming president as someone from a fancy neighbourhood?” A teenage girl is interviewing a boy in her class. They’re pupils at a middle school in a banlieue on the outskirts of Paris known by its official department number, “the 93”. It’s the poorest place in mainland France. Her classmate replies: “If I said ‘yes’ I’d be lying.” He is Guy-Yanis, a super-bright, charismatic boy of around 13. He’s a positive kid, and goes on to say that he tries hard to counter the prejudices people have about the 93 as a crime-ridden no-go zone.
This documentary from Eric Baudelaire is a reminder of how much we can learn from the way teenagers see the world. Another kid brings a philosopher’s reasoning to the question of evil, and why the world needs bad people: “It’s good we’re not all the same. Otherwise there would be no problems, no stories.” Baudelaire gave cameras to the school’s film club to capture their everyday lives over four years. A crew also filmed their conversations about everything from movies to politics, racism and Islamophobia. There’s a heated debate between Guy-Yanis and another boy about whether Guy-Yanis is Ivorian or French (his parents emigrated to France from Côte d’Ivoire). “You’re 100% French! As French as cheese!”
It’s these encounters that give the film its energy and optimism. On the other hand, unkind as it may be to point out, the footage shot by the pupils at home, bittily edited and put together without much in the way of explanation, is a slog. Still, what a worthwhile, inspiring project – and the kind of opportunity that might go some way towards putting the kids from the 93 on a level playing field with those from more privileged backgrounds.
• Un Film Dramatique is available from 21 December on Mubi.