Corrections Class: A devastating social lesson
by Vladan Petkovic
- A first-time director raises an important social question with enormous passion
The debut feature film by young Russian director Ivan I. Tverdovsky, Corrections Class [+see also:
interview: Ivan I Tverdovsky
film profile], had its European premiere in the East of the West section of Karlovy Vary. Loosely based on the novel by Ekaterina Murashova, this is a simultaneously heartbreaking and hopeful story of physically and/or psychologically impaired teenagers whom the education system would prefer to sweep under the carpet, rather than putting any effort into easing their way into society.
Lena (Masha Poezhaeva) is a bright and beautiful girl, confined to a wheelchair for most of the time. After studying at home for years, she is assigned to a special class for disabled pupils who have to prove to a commission at the end of the school year that they are “worthy” of attending “normal” classes with other children. The class is populated by students who have a wide variety of impairments, from Down Syndrome, through bipolar disorder, to simple stuttering. Already, this fascist institutional set-up starts building anger in the viewer.
Lena falls in love with Anton (Philipp Avdeev), the “pretty boy” in the class. Their relationship will turn out to be almost fatal due not only to the social unawareness of the faculty and the backwards, “traditional” ideas of their families, but even more so to the cruelty of their peers. Children are cruel, and children who have been subjected to malevolence in school, society and even their own families, only because they are different, often turn out brutal.
But maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel, a “happy ending” of sorts, whether the director intended this as a sort of magical realism or an actual psychological explanation of Lena’s illness. But before that, the audience has to go through devastating scenes teetering on the border between catharsis and brutal sentimentalism, much in a Lars von Trier manner (think The Idiots or Dancer in the Dark). The cast is a mix of professionals and actual disabled teenagers, so ethical questions in the media are to be expected – if the film gets the attention it deserves.
The 25-year-old director has made a structurally and formally uneven, but emotionally powerful, film of enormous social significance, with a passion that is almost unparalleled in recent Russian cinema. Unfortunately, it is hard to expect it will receive much space outside the festival circuit (“preaching to the choir”), when it should really be shown on Russian and other Eastern European televisions.
Corrections Class was co-produced by Russia’s New People Film Company and Germany’s Jomami Filmproduktion.