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SCHOOL LIFE: 3 STARS. “lifted by the buoyance of the characters.”

Set in the Parisian suburb of Saint Denis, “School Life’ (“La vie scolaire”) is an empathetic, if melodramatic, look at a year in the life of Samia (Zita Hanrot), the new Vice Principal of a middle school filled with disruptive students. It debuts on Netflix this week.

Directed by slam poet Grand Corps Malade and Mehdi Idir, the story begins with Samia, an idealistic young teacher, being warned by her new colleagues. Her students, she is told, are lazy and impossible to discipline. But where her jaded co-workers see students destined to fail, she sees young people who need a roadmap for the lives they are about to embark on. One student in particular grabs her attention. Yanis (Liam Pierron), a young man with an interest in working on movie sets, he’s smart but beaten down by systematic institutional oppression, both inside and outside of the school. He has given up hope. Will she have enough for the two of them?

“School Life” suffers from bad dubbing into English from its original French, which is a shame because the underlying messages of the importance of education and empathy are heartfelt and not over played. The social messages shine through loud and clear, even if the storytelling is muddied by an abundance of characters and situations. As an ensemble piece, however, “School Life” takes pleasure its variety of characters, exploring their humour and liveliness by way of first time, non-professional actors who bring a naturalism and verve to their roles. Their energy makes up for the bad dubbing and overstuffed After School Special plot.

“School Life” works best when it drops the melodrama and focusses on the characters. The beauty of a scene where one of the students conducts the school “orchestra,” a beat machine and a team of recorder players, is in its simplicity and in the obvious joy the students have to be creating something for others to enjoy. That’s the beating heart of the story, pride through achievement, encouraged by a teacher who sees the best in her students. It’s a simple idea, one we’ve seen before in inspirational teacher movies like “Good Will Hunting” and “Stand and Deliver,” but lifted by the buoyance of the characters.

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