It All Starts Today

on February 16, 1999 by Tim Cogshell
   To the extent that French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier's work is known America, it's most likely for his energetic action oriented movies like "The Revenge of the Three Musketeers" and his wonderfully carnal 1996 war flick "Captain Conan." His new film, "It All Starts Today," is very different from those movies. This small, thoughtful and decidedly non-action-oriented film is about Daniel, a teacher/administrator at a neglected kindergarten. Despite the pressure of having to read subtitles, it will rip your heart out.

   With a small staff of dedicated teachers, Daniel (Philippe Torreton) not only educates the tiny, beautiful children assigned to his care, he negotiates their very existence in a seemingly apathetic system. Against a backdrop of local politics, creeping poverty, bureaucratic nonsense and personal strife, Daniel struggles to save his children one at a time. Occasionally he succeeds in the smallest way--getting a child who doesn't speak to whisper a guarded secret--but too often he faces devastating failures.

   There have been many American-made, similarly themed films in recent years, such as "Lean on Me," "Stand and Deliver" and "Dangerous Minds." They are usually centered around issues of race inequity and are frequently accompanied by best-selling soundtracks. They are often sanctimonious and almost always miss the point. "It All Starts Today," with its poetic flourishes and sheer simplicity, avoids all of those pitfalls. Because the film is set in a homogeneous French town, it illustrates how the problems are not necessarily about race (or for that matter even nationality), and as it is centered around the youngest students, it illustrates just how incipient the problems are. Like its American equivalents, "It All Starts Today" does suggest that problems can be solved with nothing more than the goodwill of a single dedicated teacher. But Tavernier never substitutes poignancy for the harsher realities.    Starring Philippe Torreton, Maria Pitarresi, Nadia Kaci, Veronique Ataly, Nathalie Becue, Emmanuelle Bercot, Françoise Bette and Christine Citti. Directed by Bertrand Tavernier. Written by Dominique Sampiero, Tiffany Tavernier and Bertrand Tavernier. Produced by Frederic Bourboulon and Alain Sarde. An Independent Artists Release. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 117 min.

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