High school is always a tough ride. It’s full of early mornings, challenging tests, homework, bus rides. Then of course there’s bad cafeteria food, college applications, lame school rallies. I shouldn’t be so general though. Who knows what high school is like in different countries? Surely there are differences. In Korea the hours are longer…very rough. In Russia, Putin personally beats you senseless for every tardy. And in France, the teachers are constantly trying to sleep with you. True stories.

Frenchman Christoph Honore‘s new movie, La Belle Personne, is a 17th century soap opera set against the world’s greatest socialization machine: high school. When the young, beautiful Junie arrives after her mother dies, she instantly finds herself the attention of every male suitor who graces the screen. The young, shy Otto gets the first crack at her, but how can a young man compete with the worldly charms of a morally bankrupt Italian teacher? He’s simply over-matched. No matter if the handsome elder looks like he’s 16 and is already sleeping with another student, a friend of Junie’s cousin, as well as a fellow teacher. You can’t blame him. All that poetry reading can really go to one’s head. Whereby “head” I mean, well, you see.

I could pay women to hang out with me (hah, as if such services existed…) and get less attention than Junie does before 2nd period. Apparently I went to school in the wrong country. The only love letters I ever got from teachers had plus signs after them. Here everyone writes like it’s their final moment before the Visigoths lay siege to the castle. “I cannot live without you,” “Your beauty is unmatched,” “my sword is long” etc. etc. How is a lady to resist?

The beautiful youths, the future of our great world, prance around from class to class passing notes, making out, declaring their undying love for every warm object, and ignoring the dates on their birth certificates.

But what can I say? It’s loosely based on a 17th century novel called La Princesse de Cleves and those were freaky times. Now I haven’t read it, as irresistible as I find all books with the word “princess” in the title. But maybe the suicides, statutory rape, infidelity, macho sentimentalism and homoerotic affairs can be chalked up to history. Yes. Or better yet. Literary history!

No better place to talk about literature than high school. “I don’t get it. So the guy’s mom is with the guy’s uncle now? That’s messed up. I bet that dude goes crazy.” “This dude went off to war and it took him how long to get back home to see his wife? He need to fly Jet Blue!” “He is so mean, why can’t he just leave the whale alone?”

Everyone wants to be the hero, or heroine, as it were. In La Belle Personne, Junie gets her wish. Sure a few people die along the way, but what sacrifice is that for beauty?

The San Francisco Film Society is screening La Belle Persona September 4-10 at the Sundance Kabuki. Info.

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