Shortly after I first previewed Bringing Up Bebe in a Barnes & Noble, I was invited by a French-speaking friend whom I shall call S. to see the movie version of The Rabbi's Cat at the JCC. Since I had loved the first two books (which are owned by BPL), I eagerly accepted. When we arrived at the JCC, we found the auditorium completely full. Filled with expectation, everyone sat back to enjoy the movie, only to be told that the film was not working, and that we would instead be shown a French movie called "Fracture".
SPOILER ALERT! "Fracture" is about a young French teacher named Anna, who is unlucky enough to land her first teaching job as a social studies teacher in a high school in a poor section of Paris. Anna is Jewish, her parents are formerly radical university professors who marched in the French student riots of 1968, her uncle is very pro-Israel, and her non-Jewish boyfriend appears to be a naive, self-centered twit.
The kids in Anna's school are either immigrants or the children of immigrants. Anna is verbally harassed by her students for being Jewish and an an attractive woman. One student, an 18-year-old who is still in a class meant for 14-year-olds and spends his time beating up the younger kids, finally gets thrown out of school after burning down the library. Other students argue against Sarkozy's policy towards immigrants, the Israeli presence in Palestine, and what they perceive as Anna's lack of respect towards them (she would like them to sit down, stop throwing things and beating each other up, and learn).
The most sympathetic student is boy who had planned to become a professional cartoonist before he fell down and hurt his hand. He had gone to a public French hospital and was treated by a doctor who had been working for 36 straight hours, was completely dulled by fatigue, and caused irreparable nerve damage to the boy's hand. The school's way of handling this problem was to force the boy to spend hours in the library (before it was torched) practicing the alphabet with his good hand. The boy eventually commits suicide.
While all this happens the students riot in their housing projects, torch a couple of dozen cars, and shoot a few people. The brother of one student is arrested for being a member of a terrorist cell. One teacher takes early retirement at 55 and announces that he is moving out of France since any country with such youth is beyond repair.
The reaction of the JCC audience, once the lights came up, was very revealing. Based purely upon my observations, the audience was mostly older and middle- or upper-middle class. A number of them (from our eavesdropping) had actually been to France as tourists. The audience members were all shell-shocked, and a few accepted the JCC offer of a refund.
My reaction was somewhat different. I have a family member who was a social studies teacher for 25 years in a NYC high school that was recently closed as a failing school. Other than the fact that the French students were avidly following politics (something that NYC students apparently ignore) the classroom overcrowding and turmoil appeared to be quite similar to that of NYC. S.and I both agreed that the student with the injured hand would have been treated differently in NYC- perhaps the school would have allowed him to bring in his laptop or an iPad to take notes, or set him up with a social worker and counseling.
S. is a daily reader of BBC News online and I read The Guardian online. As a result, we were both aware of the high rate of unemployment among French youth, and the riots in the housing projects. Back when the French banned the wearing of the face veil to preserve French culture, we had agreed that it had been a short-sighted move by the French government.
At any rate, although "Fracture" is a fictional movie and not a docmentary, it does present another side of French youth. These teens are presumably mostly graduates of the universal free French preschool for ages 3-5. They definitely don't say bonjour to adults, and appear to lack any form of framework. They use their copious unscheduled time to smoke pot and watch TV. In fact, they appear to be much like American teens, except they speak better French and buy their French fries in small independent restaurants instead of McDonalds.