A pack of three high-shool freshmen, whose ignorance of elementary subjects, like what are prime numbers or verb forms, has finally been uncovered, look for means of escaping a painful pedagogical scrutiny for the rest of the year. Too lazy to start working upon themselves, they decide to buy the knowledge about ways of cheating teachers and controlling the progress of classes from senior schoolmates. In practice, they can only afford the "method" (SPONA) for dealing with the easiest of all "gogs", the old history professor. But things do not quite work as expected.
The book by Edmund Niziurski, "Sposob na Alcybiadesa" ("An angle on Alcibiade"), first published in 1964, is a compulsory reading for 6th-graders in Poland. Because it is excellent and the author is among the most popular Polish writers of teenage literature, we can be pretty sure that everybody doing the movie knew it well. Alas, the result is not quite on a par, even if it is sympathetic.
This does not come from the necessary cuts and simplifications: the friend pack has only 3 guys rather than 4, guys look older than what they should be, the classroom has been reduced to around a dozen people and seems somewhat small, some teachers have been eliminated. However, most of the episodes have been preserved. On the additions side, the intrigue has been enhanced with teenage seduction and love sub-plots.
As it often happens, moving the action from 1960 to 1969, probably to allow adding a few cameos by sixties music stars like Czeslaw Niemen and hippie themes, also introduced incoherences, because the school play "Africa's wake up", has been kept as well. I am not sure somebody would still be preoccupied by the subject in that year. In spite of the time shift, the music is not from the sixties, but some modern and cool hip-hop, without profanity of course. It is sometimes performed in short entr'actes, as miniature music videos.
The main problem is that the book, as most others by the author, is funny and stylish, almost surrealistic. The narrator and other characters express themselves in original and very personal ways, while the movie has been converted to a realistic convention and is not so talkative. A major part of the charm of the story and of the storytelling is lost this way and characters seem much less likeable. The script tries to compensate this by caricaturing the teachers. It would have been wiser to preserve the witty narrator, like in some Woody Allen movies or in the recent "Amelie". This would be easy, given the book is already told in the first person. Overall, we do get some good moments, but Niziurski's fans might feel betrayed.
(The movie and its sound-track are available on VHS and CD, or used to be.)
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