By Rory L. Aronsky | January 24, 2004

While sometimes too repetitive in the narrated explanations of fish, trees, a dog, and other creatures dying in an unnamed elementary school, “The School” takes an insightful look into the classroom life of an ultra-dedicated teacher (Russell Bennett), trying to show his students various facets of life through different projects, even if they don’t go as well as he thought they would.

The teacher starts us off by showing us the students in the school’s yard, planting orange trees. However, it isn’t a successful venture, because the trees are dead sometime later. One student walks up to the window where the teacher is looking out upon the students and holds up the dead twigs out of curiosity and perhaps sadness too. Soon, the teacher stretches back time in the story to include the deaths of tropical fish, salamanders, and even a puppy, which he writes off with the thought that perhaps it didn’t get the shots it needs.

“The School” even has a sit-up-in-surprise moment as one of the students (through a voice-over) asks the teacher to make love to the teaching assistant (Patrice Goodman) because they want to see how it is done. That scene seems to scream “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life”, but the students insist, even as the teacher explains that he’ll get fired. Soon, the teaching assistant takes notice and off-screen, the students’ reactions say everything with wide-open mouths and equally wide eyes. However, that’s not the deed that was done, merely a kissing demonstration. I don’t blame that teacher though. Patrice Goodman, who plays the T.A. (ironic label), is quite attractive and has that ethereal Thandie Newton quality.

“The School” is impressively shot with cinematography that makes you feel like you’re really at that school. The lighting makes it feel like there really is an air of education about the place, even when frustration rises over every single pet dying. It’s not that it’s unnecessary, but a few snips from an editorial scissor would have done the trick. It almost gets to the point where by the time they get to the umpteenth pet, “WE GET IT!! WE GET IT!!” However, Jonathan Hayes does show noticeable qualities in his filmmaking skills (despite the flaming-fast panning from left to right of the students planting the trees) that will hopefully be seen more often.

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