Class Trip (1998)

a.k.a. La Classe de Neige

D: Claude Miller
S: Clément Van Den Berg

Handsome and fairly interesting but predictable and frequently clichéd French drama, winner of the Jury Prize at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival. The shy child of overprotective parents faces all manner of difficulties when he attends a ski school with his classmates a hundred miles from his home. Haunted by his father's tales of the evil men who scour the world looking for children to kidnap and perform surgery upon for organs, he suffers from a series of nightmares which colour his perception of other people. When his father, who has given him a lift to the chalet, disappears, he begins to have violent fantasies about what might have become of him. A series of flashbacks reveals a disturbing childhood which suggests to us long before it does to him just what the film's denouement is going to be (or is it what he has feared all along and merely repressed?)

Based upon the novel by Emmanuel Carrère, it is a combination of drama and psychological thriller, with a touch of good old fashioned rites-of-passage thrown in. The script is unexceptional despite the constant feeling that it is attempting to construct a labyrinthian, surrealist framework within which French bourgeois society is to be deconstructed. It is really too obvious for that, and despite constant references to convention, transgression, and an attempt to make characters enigmatic, nothing is actually very surprising here.

The film's real strengths are entirely visual. The film richly and atmospherically photographed. Miller makes excellent use of physical space and neatly combines reality and fantasy in a Buñuelesque fashion. The fact that the fantasies are the usual combination of sexual tension and repressed violence is incidental to how well they have been rendered.

The adult performances are generally good, but the film is centred on young Clément Van Den Berg, who has little range and is often uninteresting. He certainly lacks the presence of youths in films called to mind by this one including Jeux Interdits, Au Revoir Les Enfants and My Life as a Dog. To be fair, Miller has gone much further with this material than the rites-of-passage film usually does, and Van Den Berg is called upon to play a more disturbed character than his predecessors, but with excellent child performances abounding of late, including that of Eamonn Owens in The Butcher Boy, there is not quite enough here to be of note.

Overall, Class Trip is more interesting as a tonal poem of uncertainty and despair than an actual film. Its technical polish may well endear it to art house audiences, but there is less to this than meets the eye, despite obvious hopes to the contrary. It should play relatively well with foreign film fans, but it is far from essential viewing.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.