Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Passe ton bac d’abord (Maurice Pialat, 1977)


Maurice Pialat’s Passe ton bac d’abord looks at a loosely-constituted group of young people in the dead-end French town of Lens, adults in some ways (they drink and smoke and are sexually active) but not yet in others (some are still in school, few if any are economically self-sufficient). The film starts and ends in philosophy class, the teacher instructing the students on the necessity to free one’s mind from preconceptions, an admonition hopelessly at odds with a reality defined by lack of economic and cultural opportunity, by deadening repetition, by a peer group that makes major life decisions such as marriage or pregnancy on the basis of entirely short-term calculations. Of course, many films have covered such territory, but as always, Pialat’s powers of vision and empathy give his work an almost unnerving connective power. The film certainly feels naturalistic and drawn from life, but is also muscularly shaped and balanced, the mundane central realities offset with a sense of possibilities around the edges. The most striking of these is perhaps the late arrival of a Rolls-Royce, its passage through the streets given quite a build-up, turning out to contain two model agency representatives who want to offer one of the girls a contract; whether or not the opportunity is worth pursuing, the broader point is that the parents dismiss the two out of hand without even a minimum amount of due diligence regarding what’s being offered and where it might lead. As a different kind of example of the film’s acuity: during a trip to the coast, one of the group meets a girl from Paris who in her unforced way embodies the greater inner and outer resources that they lack; he has sex with her (at her initiation) and later shows off to the others the exotic undergarment that he took from her, but the scene is more poignant than triumphant, an embodiment of distances that can only momentarily be traversed.

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