“For them, we are punks,” says a student from the Lycée Turgot in “Rookies (Come on children)alluding to the suburbs of Paris where her ethnicity sets her apart, a sentiment any of her classmates would find hard to disagree with. As co-directors Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai note, it’s not just an outlet for self-expression that she and others have at Turgot, who uses the carrot of dance to inspire students to engaging in other educational pursuits, attracting a collection of misfits who together suggest it was not a failure on their part to assimilate, but a sense of belonging to a place where the culture continually feels too rigid towards anyone who is not a white man. Turgot’s principal fits this bill, but he addresses his students as trailblazers as they walk into class, seeming to be part of an experiment where, about to drop out elsewhere, they might thrive in a program applied in a different way, emphasizing dance, but requiring at least a few steps towards English and algebra.
If this sounds like the premise of the next “Footloose” or “Step Up,” it won’t be surprising if “Rookies” becomes the starting point for the next drama-like sensation, but it’s pretty compelling as a doc, shaking out of any form entrapment with its visual kinetics and avoidance of narrative tropes to reflect their subjects’ feelings towards school, sometimes undermining a big dance sequence with the cold reality that they have to study Emile Zola where the students who were so energetic on the floor are struggling to keep their faces from falling flat on their desks. The interviews Demaizière and Teurlai conduct with the students feel candid and conspiratorial, full of typical teenage bluster but something a bit more in an awareness of their plight, frequently citing a world in which they think they cannot penetrate, no matter how hard they try.
Stealthily moving through a school year that is unbound by the usual benchmarks, “Rookies” nonetheless heads into the inevitable that a multicultural school run by all-white staff, no matter how well-meaning, is bound to having blind spots, locating a backbone in student/faculty review sessions that can be convened to discuss student shortcomings in class, but also expose those of teachers. (A student mentions being mistaken more than once for a black classmate to a teacher more inclined to defend himself than to acknowledge that it may have happened, shaping the kinds of cultural attitudes that are difficult to reshape.) The clear divisions make it a particularly good teacher of a satisfying second half in which a team comes together to engage in a dance battle, with no one being asked to give up their individualism for the team to thrive. , but instead, that personal expression is what sets them apart as a whole.
Still, Demaizière and Teurlai are careful not to draw such stark conclusions when, regardless of race, no one-size-fits-all schooling strategy will suit everyone, but “Rookies” refreshingly puts its materials on one foot. equal when it comes to spreading their perspectives, allowing for appreciation of all the moves made to allow the freedom they have on the dance floor to hopefully extend into the classroom.
“Rookies” will be screened at the Berlinale on February 11 at 10:30 a.m. at HKW, February 14 at 2:30 p.m. at Cubix 8, February 18 at 3:30 p.m. at Filmtheater am Friedrichshain and February 19 at 6 p.m. at Cineplex Titania.