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Alain Tasma’s film Fracture (2010) will screen at this year’s Toronto Jewish Film Festival.

Though Tasma’s new film has the feel of a documentary, it is a fictional story of an idealistic young teacher, Anna, who is just starting a new job at a low income, racially diverse area of Paris. Her students are a challenge, in more ways than one; financial, medical, and social issues abound. The young people, mostly children of immigrants, are often confrontational, uninterested in education, and dissatisfied with their lack of opportunity in France. Despite the challenges, the intimidation tactics of a couple of the students, and the cynicism of many of her colleagues, Anna is determined to help the kids reach their potential. But the students have issues of their own, most of which have little to do with school.

Most of the narrative centres around Anna’s crisis, and the troubles of one of her students, Lakdar, a talented artist. After an accident and a bungled medical procedure has left him without the use of his hand, he becomes totally discouraged and angry at the realization that his dreams of becoming an illustrator are no longer possible. His best friend, Kevin, is frequently bullied and becomes afraid to leave his house. It seems everything is out of control. Even Lakdar’s older brother, a young Muslim man who has become more and more radicalized, feeds Lakdar’s anger and encourages him to take action.

Set against an environment of racial tensions – you can seen and feel the remnants of the 2005 riots around France – we watch the cinders ignite, and riots erupt. Along with a number of burned out cars, the school library becomes a victim of the fires. Anna’s idealism and enthusiasm begin to wane; her discouragement matches that of her students.

Fracture is ultimately a bleak and rather grim look at the reality of France’s alienated immigrant class, and the varied responses of the Establishment. Mixing a documentary aesthetic with drama and tragedy, director Tasma’s gritty realism doesn’t really offer any easy answers or resolution. But he has made a film that makes you think, and suffer right along with the real and sympathetic characters. There is an acute sense of impending doom throughout, waiting for the inevitable loss of hope and promise to come; it was rather like watching a Greek tragedy set in modern times.

Fracture screens at this year’s Toronto Jewish Film Festival on Sunday, May 8th at 8:30 pm. Please check out the TJFF website for details.