John and Amanda Leyden are a couple whose respective fifty year teaching careers are drawing to a close. Known and loved for their mantra - Reading! Arithmetic! Rock 'n' Roll! - for nearly half a century, these two have shaped thousands of minds. For John, rock music is just another subject alongside Maths, Scripture and Latin, taught in a collaborative and often hilarious fashion. For Amanda the key to connecting with children is a book - any book - and she uses all means to snare the young minds. But now the unthinkable looms: What will retirement mean? What will keep them young if they leave?
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
John, with his wispy grey hair at the back of his skull having escaped the constraints of a pony tail, has the casual authority of academic confidence, fused with the genuine caring of someone who knows the meaning of in loco parentis. He's instantly sympathetic, as is his wife, who combines the qualities of an earth mother with those of a favoured aunt. If I could chose them to have taught our children, I would; in a heartbeat.
Shot over a year apparently, this is the kind of fly on the wall doco that is profoundly dependent for its success with audiences on editing. The two central characters are the anchors, but the filmmakers canvass the whole of school life, and take us into the mixed gender classrooms and music rehearsals, private conversations and the rituals of a primary school whose students are boarders from Ireland, Spain, England, France and other countries - all living in the one, large 18th century country estate.
In one scene, we witness students discussing same sex marriage, which serves to demonstrate how inappropriate the subject is for primary school. The children at their age are not equipped to engage meaningfully in a group discussion on the subject.
The film meanders, returning every so often like a boomerang to John and Amanda, but seemingly without rhyme or reason, which ends up seeming like a series of ad hoc decisions, adding up to very little. Pleasant enough, but less than fully satisfying. The cumulative effect of revealing John and Amanda as multi-dimensional people is therefore diffused and laboured. They are appealing and interesting enough (potentially) to be given more screen time, more attention, more probing. Perhaps the filmmakers tried to do too much, include too much, film too much.
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SCHOOL LIFE (PG)
In Loco Parentis
CAST: Documentary featuring Headfort school, Ireland
PRODUCER: Angelo Orlando, Montse Portabella, David Rane, Efthymia Zymvragaki
DIRECTOR: Neasa Ni Chianain, David Rane
SCRIPT: Neasa Ni Chianain
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Neasa Ni Chianain
EDITOR: Myriam Strugalla
MUSIC: Eryck Abecassis
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Antidote Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 2, 2017 (selected cinemas)