Two thirty 7 (2006/Murali K. Thalluri/Australia) +++
Opening Sequence : Very photogenic shot by a nonchalant camera flying unsteady in the tree leaves as if in the weightlessness of a breeze (overexposition of the sky, translucent leaves, calm, out of time, flowing motion always looking upward). The title appears superimposed like a digital clock for a second (2 :37), marking the exact time of one teenager's death. (This poetical motif will come back in the end, from a different perspective, to loop back the long flashback with the current time of the opening sequence)
Cut (from what was the courtyard of a well to do suburban high school) to the bathrooms. A girl is crying over her own problems when her attention is drawn to a closed door with suspicious noises. Some blood leaks out. After banging and alerting everyone, the door is opened to the horror of reaction shots. We don't see who is dead, and that's the mystery we'll have to figure out until the end.
High school flick is a known territory, especially in TV serial drama, but this exercice in style mixes many genres together to elaborate the complex storytelling of an artfilm. The sensationalist climax breaks in upfront. We know one of the seven students we follow this morning will commit suicide, but who? A varied selection of typical profiles (nerd, jock, teacher's pet, barbie dolls, gay, everyone's friend, laughingstock) that represent social personalities found in today's classrooms.
The students talk about their hopes and issues with life, school and family through talking-head interviews by an off-screen silent journalist, on a glossy black & white camera. Interspreced along the non-linear exposure of several viewpoints of the same events taking place that morning, they really develop the ambiguity of teen's self-centered realities. The B&W documentary image and the interview mode suggest a TV "making-of" filmed after the suicide for the news, which is the equivalent of the classic police interrogation of usual suspects in a more conventional genre. A touch of realism meant to accentuate the dramatization of this fiction based on a true story. It's particularly interesting to notice the obvious discrepencies between the public persona they try hard to portray, proud and optimistic, in these confessional interviews and the painful burden they carry secretly everywhere they go in the school scenes.
Taken in the very footsteps of teenagers along one tough day of their lives, a series of long plan sequences across the school corridors are consciously borrowed from Gus Van Sant's Elephant. The film is openly referenced in one line when Marcus and his English teacher talk about a Columbine-like school massacre. The same types of mini-episodes following one protagonist at the time, and then revisiting the same events from the perspective of another person present. Tracking shots mapping a comprehensive perception of every events from every perspective. The formalist "remake" is deliberate, fully appropriated in a personal and creative way, adaptated to a more mainstream story. Which denotes a confident talent for this debut director only aged 21 during production! This is unbelievable. A strong acting direction and a not so easy mise-en-scène that many experienced directors hardly manage.
One minor quibble though regarding the lengthy and explicit suicide scene coming up as the final revelation, that displays too much of the suggestive horror that defined the wise self-restraint atmosphere up to that point. The overtly gore and melodramatic scene isn't interesting in itself and to keep it unseen, elliptical or symbolic would convey a much more chilling feeling.
This "who is the victim?" mind game set up by the timeline inversion and withdrawal of a key information is a clever twist that introduces each of the seven protagonists as a potential "dead man walking". The potrayal of common troubles (unwanted pregnancy, homosexuality, drug abuse, anorexia, solitude, misunderstanding) makes you believe each one hides a valid motive. Maybe what they go through will lead to a dead end.
In the light of this dreadful outcome we are invited to observe carefully how they deal with their intimate problems and to pay particular attention to the point of no return when they would commit the ultimate mistake.
The film emphasizes that suicide is incomprehensible and that every adolescent may face suicidal tendencies. Even after examination of all the actions leading up to taking one's own life, it's difficult to know if someone could have noticed and help change the course of events. Maybe just a small gesture, a kind word would have made a difference. Maybe nothing at that point would have removed the resolve. The other protagonists' resilence will most likely overcome adversity, which offers a more hopeful sight.
Selected in Cannes 2006 - Un Certain Regard
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