Difficult but engaging. Second Class tells the story of Charlotte, a 2nd-grade teacher attacked by white supremacist and what she does when she finds out her attacker is the father of one of her students. It’s an oddly timely, tense, and captivating short.
The story begins with Charlotte explaining in a job interview why she wants to leave physics for a teaching position. We see her introducing herself to the class, then cut to a night out with friends. They fall afoul of a mini demonstration by neo nazi’s who verbally and physically assault her. We watch her recovery and her startling discovery. Without giving too much away, her reaction isn’t what you think, and leaves plenty open for interpretation and continuation.
Not one to shy away from difficult topics, director Jimmy Olsson (no relation) creates a tense claustrophobic atmosphere in the second half of Second Class reminiscent of the tunnel vision trauma survivor’s experience. And while his writing and directing create a fertile atmosphere, so much of the success of this short depends on star Hannah Alem-Davidson. The moment of discovery, during the class, is a masterful example of understated nuance. The conflicting desires to scream in terror and not upset the class plays out perfectly in simple eye movements and subtle facial tics.
“…attacked by white supremacist and…she finds out her attacker is the father of one of her students…”
But, at the same time, Second Class doesn’t feel at all preachy. The character has a definite idea on how to handle the situation, but it doesn’t line up with the quick and easy clichés of popular culture. Instead, Olsson presents a set of circumstances and forces the viewer to make up their own mind as to the effectiveness.
I should probably address the moose in the room. Second Class is a Swedish film in Swedish. You will have to read subtitles. But, you’re on a site dedicated to indie films so I trust your ability to handle foreign fare. However, not all of the translations are perfect. Some are a bit too literal and require you to translate the translation. To take the context of the piece and figure out the meaning of the sentence. Once you understand that it’s super easy, barely an inconvenience. However, not knowing that going in, I did have to rewind once or twice.
At a little under 14 minutes, Olsson shows a remarkable economy in his storytelling. He packs more story into this short than most writer/directors can into 90 minutes. That’s less time than it takes to cook a steak. In less time than it takes to season, bake, sear, allow to rest, and carve a succulent piece of beef, he plays with your expectations and takes you on a roller coaster of emotions. (This paragraph brought to you by a generous grant from the beef council. Beef: It’s what’s for dinner.)
Olsson, up until now appears to have only made shorts. He has a singular and unique vision that I cannot wait to see applied to a feature film. Alem-Davidson is a fantastic actor with a wealth of talent able to create a mood with a shift of her head. Their collaboration is an example of artistic alchemy, where the whole is more than the sum of its parts. At this point, I would literally watch anything they did together and cannot wait for their follow up piece.
Second Class (2019) Directed by Jimmy Olsson. Written by Jimmy Olsson. Starring Hannah Alem-Davidson and Mio Adermark.
10 out of 10