Class Trip: Claude Miller’s Evocation of Childhood

Class Trip
(La Classe De Neige)

In Class Trip, a visually compelling evocation of a troubled childhood, Claude Miller revisits the turf of some his earlier pictures, specifically The Best Way to Walk, which was also set in a holiday camp, and his adolescence dramas, An Impudent Girl and The Little Thief.

Despite strong beginning and some powerful moments, this intense, narrowly-focused picture depicts rather than illuminates the traumatic experience of one boy’s winter vacation, failing to arouse strong emotional or intellectual engagement.

Several of Miller’s movies have traveled well the festival and arthouse roads in North America, but Warners should expect an extremely modest response to a film that may be embraced by Miller’s fans but is likely to be dismissed by the more discerning critics and viewers.

Unlike Neil Jordan’s The Butcher Boy (also released by Warners), which offered a brilliant, darkly humorous inside look at the inner workings of a tormented and violent childhood, Miller’s Class Trip plays its subject seriously as a psychological drama, failing to provide an absorbing P.O.V. and ultimately giving the impression that an adult perspective has been imposed on the unique universe of children.

When the tale begins, Nicolas (Clement Van Den Bergh), a frail, melancholy boy, is about to embark on a school skiing trip. A professional worrier, his insecure father (Francois Roy) raises numerous questions about the safety of the trip and the precautions that need to be taken, as a result of a recent bus accident in which 15 children were killed. Refusing to let Nicolas take the bus, like all the other kids, he opts to drive him to the camp in a trip that increases the boy’s anxieties on any level imaginable.

Upon arrival at the camp, a remote, beautiful spot in snow-covered woods, Nicolas forgets his bag in the car–and thus begins an endlessly anguished ordeal that in due course materializes most of his phobias (wetting his bed, losing his life). Hodkann (Lockman Nalcakan), a wild, undisciplined kid, volunteers to lend him pajamas and a tentative friendship begins.

Blessed with a fertile imagination–and a set of real problems to match–Nicolas engages in daydreams and nightmares to the point where, as he says, “I would rather make myself stop sleeping than have my fantasies.” Through flashbacks, interspersed throughout the narrative, some painful episodes of his childhood are disclosed, including a family visit to an amusement park in which his perpetually anxious dad refused letting him go on a roller coaster.

The film’s major chapters visualize Nicolas’s horrific stories, as he experiences them and as he shares them with Hodkann. Not surprisingly, his fantasies are dominated by torture and violence, envisioning his father’s death in a bloody car accident. Nicolas both excites and scares his chum with bedtime yarns of bad guys who kidnap and kill children and traveling salesmen who trade off body organs.

Early on, Nicolas asks, “Is it true that when you think very hard about something it really happens,” a question that becomes the film’s central theme, demonstrating the validity of self-fulfilling prophecies. As it turns out, Nicolas’ reality at the camp proves to be much more frightening and traumatic than his cruelest fantasy. Unfortunately, mid-section contains so many illustrations of Nicolas’s tormented mind that they progressively yield diminishing returns.

Based on a 1995 novel by Emmanuel Carrere, which was inspired by a news item, Class Trip seems satisfied at just portraying Nicolas’ mental anguish, without framing it in any discernible dramatic perspective. End result is a disappointing film that suffers from repetition of imagery and ideas and one that is finally more perplexing than disturbing or provocative.

Well cast, Van Den Bergh has a sad, expressive face, but since most of the time he’s by himself, with limited interaction with the instructors and other kids, the close-ups that helmer lavishes on him don’t help make his character more sympathetic or engaging. In general, pic is cold and distanced, lacking the emotional nuance that characterizes Miller’s better efforts.

That said, well-mounted production is polished in every respect, and exciting visuals by lenser Guillaume Schiffman provide considerable rewards for the eyes while the mind eagerly waiting for deeper psychological insights that never arrive.