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School of Babel

School of Babel

Welcome to one Parisian school's program for newly arrived immigrant children from all over the world. At 'La Grange aux Belles' school in the diverse 10th district of Paris has a program for newly arrived immigrant children that provides intense language lessons in French alongside the core curriculum, so that the children can make the transition to mainstream classes.

SCHOOL OF BABEL follows the story of one class of students ranging from eleven to fifteen years of age, as they come to terms with a new language and a new life. Hailing from countries across the globe including Ireland, Brazil, China, Ukraine, Tunisia, Venezuela, Guinea and Libya, the students in the reception class find the transition challenging as they juggle learning French, along with homesickness, familial responsibilities and memories of hardships in their home countries. Very few of the students have lived trouble-free existences. Many are asylum seekers, while others are escaping social and economic disadvantages in their home countries or have experienced family separations and breakdowns.

Their teacher, Brigitte Cervoni, demonstrates extraordinary patience, skill and care in teaching and counselling the students, and in her interactions with their parents and guardians. She guides them through a rigorous school year and prepares them for the transition to mainstream classes. In addition, she helps them to remain resilient, as they negotiate schoolyard conflict and their complicated lives outside of school. Learning French is difficult but integration is just as challenging.

While the students begin the school year struggling to find the right words, in the final term they undertake their examination feeling nervous but also well prepared. Along the way, they master French and gain ground lost in their other subjects because of the language barrier. They also engage in invigorating and sometimes heated class debates that not only identify their differences but what they have in common. They learn how to make an award-winning film. They make friends, and they choose to share their stories of the past and their future hopes with each other.

When the end of the year inevitably arrives, it is difficult for them to say goodbye to each other and to their teacher. The students speak of each other as brothers and sisters, and of Ms. Cervoni as a surrogate mother, as they sign farewell cards, embrace each other, wipe tears from their eyes and leave the schoolyard together for the last time.

'Migrants were born as human beings, not as propaganda fodder for opportunist political learn, or re-learn it in Julie Bertuccelli's superb SCHOOL OF BABEL.' - Nigel Andrews, Financial Times

'Julie Bertuccelli's enchanting emotional doucmentary tracks a year in the life of 24 immigrant children. Allowed to be themselves, the subjects speak ina language we understand. It's as simple-and extraordinary-as that.' - Charlotte O'Sullivan, The Evening Standard

'A lively and lovely verite doucumentary filmed over a school year in a classroom in Paris in which 24 teenagers of 22 different nationalities, often with sad stories to tell and sometimes uplifting ones, all find a voice of their own.' - Laurence Phelan, Radar Magazine, The Independent

'An unusually uplifting social study, a collage of journeys to integration as well as maturity, and by simple design a breath of relief in the bogey-ridden immigration debate.' - Nick Bradshaw Sight and Sound

'It deftly weaves all of the children's stories together into an important and compelling anthology that holds up a mirror to the emergent generation of multi ethnic immigrant children in France.' - Cormac O'Brien Little White Lies

'Bertuccelli's engaging movie is a simple humanist picture of hopeful young lives in a multiethnic society.' - Ed Porter, Culture Magazine, The Sunday Times

'Simple, direct and powerful, this unadorned doc follows a class of 11 and 12-year-old immigrant students struggling to improve their French at a Parisian school. Laurent Cantet's fictionalised Palme d'Or winner 'The Class' is clearly an inspiration, but SCHOOL OF BABEL is looser, less formal and perhaps more emotionally complex.' - Tom Huddleston, Time Out

'Quietly moving.' - MovieMail

'Julie Bertuccelli captures the uniqueness of a Parisian class whose students struggle with integration.' - Jay Weissberg, Variety

'Infinitely moving. We are immersed in a swirl of emotions each more intense than the other. So we cry and laugh a lot, or we hold back our tears, because these emotions are universal... SCHOOL OF BABEL is a soothing and invigorating film.' - Jean-Baptiste Morain, Les Inrockuptibles


Main credits

Bertuccelli, Julie (film director)
Bertuccelli, Julie (director of photography)
Fogiel, Yael (film producer)
Gonzalez, Laetitia (film producer)

Other credits

Montaje, Josiane Zardoya; musique, Olivier Daviaud.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

Conflict Resolution
Cultural Anthropology
Cultural Studies
Family Relations
French Culture
High School Use


; "School of Babel"; Icarus Films; Paris; immigration; education; school; asylum; asylum seekers; French; France; homelessness; poverty; refugee; teenagers; Julie Bertuccelli;