Monday at the San Francisco International I saw the North American premiere of documentary Children of the Princess of Cleves, by French neuroscientist turned filmmaker Regis Sauder.
Cleves portrays students of a high school literature class in Marseilles who are reading and studying the 17th century French novel La Princesse de Cleves. The first thing I like about this documentary is how relatable it is: most of us can remember back to highschool required reading. We follow along as the students read and study the book while dually we are woven into their personal lives: they experience large and meaningful feelings of love and heartache, angst, and excitment that reflect the themes they are reading in the book. And Sauder does an excellent job weaving, I found it a very powerful documentary in large part because of the filmmaking. The high school characters in the documentary sometimes act out scenes from the book, sometimes voice the scenes to the camera, then dialog of them talking about their own lives and feelings is voiced-over footage of them in their daily lives, that is often very close up shots on their young acne-d faces (which I especially noticed since I got there late and had to sit in the 3rd row...) The tight, personal shots, and the drama of the fiction they're reading make for a nuanced and interesting twist on documentary.
*This is also posted over at my fest21 film blog