Isabelle Adjani sheds glamour for classroom drama

Thu Feb 5, 2009 11:33am EST
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By James Mackenzie

PARIS (Reuters) - Isabelle Adjani plays a teacher struggling to control a mutinous class of teenagers in a new film, being shown at the Berlin Film Festival, that takes one of French cinema's most celebrated beauties to a rundown school.

"La journee de la jupe" (Skirt Day) deals with the tensions over immigration, education and race that have haunted France since the 2005 riots that blew up in the shadow of the grim towerblocks that ring many French cities.

"I didn't think about it all. I accepted immediately," Adjani, whose father was Algerian and who has often spoken out on issues such as immigration, told Reuters in an interview.

The teenagers, mostly children of Arab or black immigrants, treat her awkward character Sonia with contempt and insolence, abuse each other and shout down her helpless attempts to teach them Moliere.

The harassed and dowdy Sonia, far removed from Adjani's ethereal image in roles such as "Camille Claudel" or "La reine Margot," is mocked as a "fat cow" and worse by her adolescent tormentors but ends up spitting abuse right back.

"I was astonished by its politically incorrect audacity," Adjani said of the script that director Jean-Paul Lilienfeld sent her and of the central image of a skirt as a symbol of a woman's freedom to wear what she wanted, free of bullying.

"I thought it was outrageous in a way, very daring and original," she said.

The main drama is produced when a gun is found in a boy's bag, a shot is fired accidentally and Sonia cracks up, taking her own class hostage and setting the scene for a series of fiery exchanges on race, religion and the abuse of women.   Continued...

<p>French Actress Isabelle Adjani, President of the 30th edition of the French Cesar film awards ceremony speaks in Paris, February 26, 2005. REUTERS/Emmanuel Fradin</p>