Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
Daniel, the kindergarten teacher in "It All Starts Today," finds himself doing a lot more than teaching. He is also expected to be a social worker, child abuse investigator, hot lunch provider, political activist, fund-raiser, administrator, son and lover, and now his girlfriend wants him to become a father as well. Philippe Torreton plays the role with a kind of desperate energy, relaxing only with the kids in the schoolroom and one night when he dances at a birthday party.
There is not much good cheer in the town where he teaches, a depressed mining village in the very area of France that inspired Zola's great expose of mine conditions, Germinal . Today, the typical miner is more like Daniel's dad, a broken figure who shuffles through the living room with his oxygen tank strapped to his back. Unemployment is widespread, government funds are lacking, and the mayor complains that schools and social services eat up his budget.
Not that the services are that good. Early in the film, Daniel locks out a social worker (Nadia Kaci) after she hangs up on him. Later they get to be friends, and bend a few rules to make things happen. But what can they do about the pathetic mother who pushes her baby carriage into the schoolyard to pick up her pre-schooler, collapses on the asphalt, and then runs away, leaving behind both her baby and her little girl? "She reeked of red wine," another teacher tells Daniel (the French would note the color). He visits her home, to find that the power has been turned off. It is winter, and cold. It's against the law to turn off a customer's power in the winter, but the power company gets around that by turning it off in the autumn. This woman, her kids and her dispirited husband have no money, no hope, no plans.
The 1999 movie is a tender and passionate protest, not without laughter, by Bertrand Tavernier--a director who is not only gifted but honorable, and who since his debut with the wonderful "The Clockmaker" in 1973, has never put his hand to an unworthy film. He works all over the map, from the fantasy of "Death Watch" to the politics of "The Judge and the Assassin" to the character study "A Week's Vacation" to the jazz biopic " 'Round Midnight" to the heartbreaking "Daddy Nostalgia" and the angry "L.627," about the impossibility of being an effective drug cop.
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