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What did you learn at school today?
A UK region 0 DVD review of ÉDUCATION ANGLAISE by Gort
 

Life in the English school system in the 1930s, we have been repeatedly assured by novels and movies, was no bed of roses. It was so notoriously strict that the principal of the Paris school at the centre of Éducation Anglaise is able to satisfy a client's enquiries about the school's approach to discipline with the claim that they have adopted "the English educational system." Wow, that should do it. Further evidence is immediately provided by a bare bottom spanking of the sort that would have Futurama's Zapp Brannigan cooing with delight.

The client in question is Monsieur Pieron, a wealthy hedonist who has inherited the care of his teenage goddaughter Silvie Dumarcay after the death of her parents, a girl he hastily deposits at the aforementioned school so that his sexual adventures with the domestic staff can continue undisturbed. Silvie soon learns some truths about what it means to experience an Éducation Anglaise. She's tripped up and pushed over by her classmates, ordered to strip off for inspection by the principal, and introduced to the pleasures of bed sharing and bathroom touch-ups by sympathetic fellow student Claire. But it's with the arrival of the somewhat masculine Madame Georgina and her very special interest in the girls in her charge that things really take a turn for the perverse.

OK, hold on, let's back up here for a second and address the issue of Madame Georgina. The term 'somewhat masculine' doesn't really cover it. She's a man, goddammit, and is obviously so from the moment we meet her (it doesn't help that she's played by the now very recognisable Jean-Claude Dreyfus). Maybe we're supposed to realise this from the start, to make that not-to-subtle connection with the news of an escaped criminal and realise that Madame Genevieve's passionate lesbian relationship with Georgina is actually nothing of the sort. But if so, what's the deal with the later reveal scene in which Georgina's breasts are shown to be two water-filled balloons on a bit of string? OK, it's not The Crying Game, but can there be a person watching who would be in any way surprised by this? It's actually a shame, as if you were fooled by the disguise then Georgina and Genevieve's behaviour would play a lot more kinkily.

This may take the edge off of the film's erotic credentials, but it doesn't invalidate them by any means. The girls get very friendly with each other, take baths together in milk, are attached to chariots to re-enact Roman races, and are called before Georgina to be ritually humiliated when they complain. If this were a convent school then Éducation Anglaise would have all the elements of a full blown nunsploitation film, which is acknowledged at one point when Silvie is ordered to dress in a nun's wimple and spank her similarly attired classmate.

The narrative upshot is that Silvie is transformed by her experiences from retiring mouse to whip wielding dominatrix, a journey that's its possible to be entertained by in spite of a somewhat intermittent emotional engagement with the character (the departure of close friend and lover Claire is rather touchingly handled). Part of the fun comes from those generic absurdities that you'll rarely find outside the world of exploitation erotica, with the schoolgirls and Principal Genevieve cast more for their looks and their willingness to undress rather than their precise suitability for their respective roles, which explains why some of the girls appear to be the same age as the woman in whose charge they have been placed. Their sexual misadventures, meanwhile, offer little in the way of narrative advancement and are there purely for 80s-style titillation (no, really?), save for Silvie's introduction to the world of the whip, whose end-of-film pay-off is leapt to via one of those disconnected "did you hear what happened?" dialogue exchanges that play like an emergency replacement for a lost climactic scene.

Then again, the early signs are that we're not meant to take any of this that seriously. In the pre-title sequence, Silvie's father catches his wife in bed with her lover and shoots them both and them himself, leaving the private detective who led him there to groan that he will no longer get paid. And the deadpan lampooning of religion in the scene that follows, in which a senior cleric inherits a successful whorehouse and is told by Pieron that his red garments have a demonic quality, is almost worthy of Buñuel.

sound and vision

A rather impressive anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer has a few dust spots here and there but not enough to act as a distraction. Contrast and colour are pretty good, though shadow detail is a little lacking in some scenes. The picture is sharp throughout.

You can choose to watch the film either in its original French or an English dub. Both are Dolby 2.0 mono and reasonably clean, although the English track has a very faint rhythmic background click that is amplified to a thud if you run your bass through the subwoofer. The dub has a mixture of English and American voices, some more appropriate than others, although few come close to matching the mouth movements of the characters. Georgina sounds like the man she is on the French soundtrack, while the voice is camped up on the English track, dropping a few octaves once his/her true identity is revealed.

extra features

Trailers
Both the English (1:11) and French (1:06) trailers are included and are virtually identical, save for the soundtracks.

Gallery (0:59)
A rolling gallery of FOH stills, backed by a stuttering extract from the score.

summary

The first of two releases under Nucleus Films' new Naughty label (the other is Dressage), Éducation Anglaise is actually rather fun and well made, in spite of its uneven storytelling and puddle-deep characters. The early humour may well be a pointer to how to read the rest of the film, but it's sometimes tricky to spot when the filmmakers are trying to be funny, especially in the case of Madame Georgina. Nonetheless, an interesting start for the new label, and there are no complaints here about the transfer.

Éducation Anglaise
English Education

France 1983
88 mins
director
Jean-Claude Roy
starring
Jean Antolinos
André Dupon
Obaya Roberts
Véronique Gujillard
Caroline Laurence
Jean-Claude Dreyfus
Bernard Musson
Véronique Catanzaro

DVD details
region 0
video
1.66:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby mono 2.0
languages
French
English
subtitles
English
extras
Trailers
Gallery
distributor
Naughty (Nucleus)
release date
21 January 2008
review posted
24 January 2008

See all of Gort's reviews