Following on from another silly French film seen at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival, Skirt Day is a film that at least attempts to ask some seriously confronting questions.
Sonia teaches at the local public school, where the students of various minorities regularly clash, both verbally and physically. Not only do they bully each other remorselessly, they regularly threaten Sonia. It may sound like another Dangerous Minds/To Sir, with Love/The Blackboard Jungle kind of flick, except Sonia cracks it one day and takes the class hostage at gunpoint. This means that she can finally teach her dramatic literature class and – more importantly – tell the kids exactly what she thinks of them.
Skirt Day throws around a tonne of issues almost faster than we can keep up. Never mind the fact that this school features kids of both Arab and Israeli backgrounds, throughout the siege Sonia lectures them on the importance of safe sex, respecting each other, getting a proper education and – significantly – why women should be allowed to wear skirts.
It’s not entirely clear what point this film is trying to make, though it’s coming from a distinctly humanist angle. Sonia is trying to appeal to the kids’ common sense, above and beyond their faith. She is clearly of the view that religion does not belong in a public school, and – in tune with recent events in France – that religious clothing should be banned in such an environment. To its credit, it brings up a whole host of issues and most of the adults get to present their opposing views fairly.
Unfortunately, the performances are a little too exaggerated for my liking. The script and direction mean that the characters are storming about yelling this and that with very little build up. Sonia cracks less than ten minutes into the film and whilst I wanted to knock some sense into her students myself, it was a little too soon to see her go over the edge. The police response and the media-fuelled chaos that comes soon after is all a bit over the top also.
Skirt Day needed to either push itself completely into satire, or hang back in a kind of ruthless realism. Instead, it hovers between the two and fails as a consequence. As a harbinger to healthy debate, it’s quite a strong film; it just doesn’t have quite the impact it could have…Rating: