Neïla, a girl of Algerian descent, lives in a housing project in the suburbs of Paris with her mother and her grandmother. She has good friends in the neighborhood, including a boyfriend named Mounir, an Uber driver. Always a good pupil, she has decided to become a lawyer and to this end has enrolled at the Assas University in Paris. But her first day proves a harrowing experience. Arriving late in the great amphitheater where Pierre Mazard, a seasoned but controversial law professor, gives his class, poor Neïla is taken to task by him, and in words tainted with racism. Some students complain about Mazard's attitude, which urges the President to intervene. He firmly asks the prof that he do something to redeem himself. And to this end, why not train his victim for the prestigious speech contest Assas is associated with? Reluctant at first, Pierre is forced to accept the deal. But how will Neïla put up with working under the yoke of her torturer? And how will Mazard refrain from taking...Written by
The Truth Doesn't Matter - It's About Being Right.
Le Brio is a wonderfully engaging ((essentially) two - hander, directed by Yvan Attal, who is also one of the film's 5 screen writers. Given the depth of the dialogue and the range of philosophical ideas explored in this economically compact 95 minute movie, this is one feature where I'm not surprised in the least that a team of writers was employed. Apparently the script was inspired by the annual debating competitions held in France's most prestigious law schools.
Entering one of these contests for the first time is the feisty and stubborn Neila a first year law student of Arab heritage. She comes from the wrong side of the Parisian socio-economic tracks, but has won selection at the Panthoen-Assas University. On the very first day of lectures, Neila is berated by her professor Pierre Mazard in front of the entire amphitheater, with Mazard dealing out an over the top bullying rant that quickly goes viral. This results in Mazard being reprimanded by his law school Dean and forced to coach Neila for the upcoming competition as a way to demonstrate that he's not a complete bigot and that the university is encouraging diversity amongst its student body. What follows could perhaps be construed as a 21st century Gallic reboot of Educating Rita. But I think that would be doing Le Brio a disservice.
The second act sees a series of tutoring sessions between the seemingly mismatched pair, as Mazard lectures Neila on the art of winning arguments, citing Arthur Schopenhauer's The Art of Being Right, as his text basis. Rather than being conflictingly dry, much entertainment follows, as we see Neila attempting to bring theory into practice in venues such as crowded carriages on the Paris Metro. Also appealing and arguably worthy of more follow-up was the singular peek into Neila's home life, where we meet her supportive single mother and grandmother, in a priceless family dinner setting, which contrasted with Mazard's difficulties in socially engaging in his solitary life outside the law school's doors.
It's in the nature of these "loser comes good" films that the protagonist develops despite the challenges ahead and so it is in Le Brio where for awhile, the spotlight is shone on the running of these staged debating competitions, which I admit, I found fascinating. However in a mild, somewhat contrived third act twist, Neila's summative presentation is delivered in an unexpected forum, to a different audience.
Leads Camelia Jordana and Daniel Auteuil are quite superb in their roles of student and teacher respectively, offering up several juicy verbal bouts alongside a few scenes of genuine emotion. Director Attal succeeds in a producing a discussion involving a host of provocative social issues, such as race, religion and class in the most eloquent and imaginative cinematic way possible. At the same time, in doing so, he reinforces the old truism about best teachers not necessarily making for the best people.
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