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This thoughtful French film takes place in France in the 50's and centers around Hannah, a Jewish teenager just doesn't fit in. She aspires to be in her school's jazz band. In this school, the jazz band is like the football team - iconic, legendary, dripping with school spirit, and traditionally all-male. Hannah wails on the bass, and not surprisingly gets into the band - but there her troubles just begin.
At its heart the movie is a series of pranks exchanged by Hannah and the other boys in the band, but it weaves its main theme of discrimination in carefully. Like the best movies, you'll feel enlightened by a moral, but feel as though you figured it out for yourself. Anti-semitism is dealt with, but mostly Hannah is discriminated for being a girl. Also, the movie touches on the topic of homophobia - but lightly, and not nearly enough to have an opinion.
However, at it's heart the movie is a typical teen fitting-in story. The swing of the 50's adds a fun backdrop. Although Hannah does not go from pauper to princess, it is nice to watch her gradually make peace and overcome her sullen shyness to speak her mind and be heard. One of the nicest elements is the inclusion of Hannah's crazy family. She has two older sisters, both superficial French beauties who constantly chide her for overeating (French is, after all, a language where there's a verb meaning "to get fat".) Her mom is bustling and controlling, and her dad is a lovable hothead. At first she seems totally out of place in her family, but as the film goes on you start to see the thoughtful side of her sisters and the way her whole family sticks up for one another.
I usually don't like movies with subtitles, but the French is not too affecting for the average English speaker, and it just doesn't stop the film from being very entertaining. The subtitles work, and you can hear the character's emotions just fine even when you have no idea what they're saying. The contrast of Hannah's sullen, depressed voice and the silky French spoken by her sisters helps create their personalities right away. There are many good jokes, and a lot of them are situation comedy, so an English speaker can understand them. My only problem with the film is the lack of fireworks at the end. I won't give anything away, but I will say that I still wanted the members of the band to get it a lot worse before the reconciliations rolled around.
All in all, this is a fun movie that has a good balance of entertainment and intelligence. If you want a foreign film that will hold your interest as effortlessly as an English one will, you'll find it in this film.
It should be noted that a wee tad of graphic nudity ought to scare off the chilluns.
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