At the Philosophers' School: A film about love
by Giorgia Del Don
- Screened at Solothurn Film Festival, the film by Fernand Melgar continues a discussion on the everyday battles that take place on the margins of society
Faithful to his perspective, and knowing how to sift through the chaos of everyday life to extract hidden pearls, Fernand Melgar takes the time to observe a group of children who are "different" from the rest. The result is At the Philosophers' School [+see also:
interview: Fernand Melgar
film profile], a film as simple as it is profound, like childhood itself, presented in world premiere at Solothurn Film Festival.
Following his trilogy on immigration (La Forteresse, [+see also:
film profile] Vol spécial [+see also:
film profile]and The Shelter [+see also:
interview: Fernand Melgar
film profile]) Fernand Melgar focuses his attention on a group of five children with different mental and physical disabilities at the delicate time of starting school. If at first glance these two worlds seem very distant, upon reflection they aren't, both focus on society’s rejection of people, and those that are not included in its field of vision. As the director himself says, his goal is not to change but rather to widen the viewer's perspective, to push us to ask questions about a world that we hardly ever come into contact with. Films can’t change the world, but they can certainly shed some light on it.
The young budding philosophers who illuminate the ninety minutes of this film are called Léon, Louis, Ardi, Kenza, Chloé and Albiana. At just five years old, they already bare the weight of the world on their shoulders, full of pain and curious glances but also unconditional love (especially that of their parents), which at times turns into pure devotion. The school (in this case located on Yverdon-les-Bains Philosophers Road) is for them (children and parents) a unique opportunity to relieve some of the weight that they carry, even if just for a moment, so as to enjoy some of the freedom that we should all have access to, but that in their situations seems unimaginable.
Although the director takes the time to question each of the three elements that make up At the Philosophers' School: parents, teachers and children, the latter (unable to express themselves verbally) remain the central point around which the film orbits. Through his camera Fernand Melgar gives a voice to their silent lamentations, their healthy indignation and their more than legitimate desire to live.
Filmed at the height of a child at times, it’s in the moments in which the director films them alone, lost in a frame that is too big, or when "spying" on them half asleep after their first outing without their parents, that these small protagonists express themselves, claim their presence, and challenge us to erase them from our field of vision. But who would have the courage to do so now that they’re a part of our world?
At the Philosophers' School ponders the fundamental question of understanding when life is really worth living. But above all, it questions who has the task of deciding, the able discriminating against the disabled, the elected against the excluded. Perhaps there is no right answer. But the fact that the question is even raised in the first place already appears to be an immense achievement. Between modesty and a desire to express oneself, each person finds the courage to assert his or her presence, shaking up – even if only for ninety minutes – a hierarchy that seems unchallengeable. Turning the abnormal into the normal, pain into a resource and cinema into a voice.
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