Aleksander Huser
Huser is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

EDUCATION: Claire Simon’s documentary about the admissions process at the French film school La Femis provides a fascinating insight into the competition going on behind the screens.

From his 1967 debut Titicut Follies, which portrays a mental hospital for the criminally insane, the American documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has devoted a large part of his career to making movies about various institutions. With his studies of – among other things – hospitals, universities and military organizations, the well-known direct cinema-director created a school for observational “institution films.”

On these shores, Margret Olin is among the filmmakers who’ve followed in his footsteps. In Dei mjuke hendene and Ungdommens råskap she portrayed a retirement home and a secondary school respectively, while her latest and most consistently observational film, Barndom, shows how play unfolds in a kindergarten.

Frederick Wiseman

The French filmmaker Claire Simon’s latest documentary The Graduation is another such “fly on the wall”-movie about an institution. Simon has turned the lens towards a central institution in her own industry, the national French film school La Femis – and more precisely its intense, exhaustive admissions process.

The distributor should have chosen a more direct translation of the original title Le Concours (meaning “the competition”) than its misleading international title The Graduation. This is primarily because Simon’s documentary doesn’t deal with the school’s graduate level students, but with the process of selecting new students. Moreover, the film directs its focus precisely at the competition you have to go through to gain admission to this prestigious educational institution, which count luminaries like Louis Malle, Theo Angelopoulos, Costa-Gavras, Claire Denis, François Ozon, Sólveig Anspach and our own Eskil Vogt among its alumni.

Comprehensive process

The school’s entrance exams stretch over several months. Naturally these tests take different forms depending on the different fields of study, which encompass scriptwriting and directing, cutting, sound design, movie distribution and cinema management. The candidates to the different programmes are assessed by professionals from the industry, in accordance with the school’s distinct philosophy of not employing regular teaching staff, but hiring filmmakers and other professionals to share their experiences instead.

This two-hour long movie consists of a series of longer sequences from different parts of the selection process, chronologically presented from the first assembly to the final decision – followed by the photographing of the chosen few. A more obvious choice would perhaps have been to follow the same candidates throughout the entire process, but Simon’s focus is on the work with, and the thinking surrounding, the selection process itself. As a result, the film deals more with the admission committees than with the prospective students, in a documentary that gives the viewer the chance to evaluate the evaluation itself – or at least to reflect on this kind of evaluations.

Talent contest

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