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Movie Reviews

Saint Clara  

Saint Clara, a 1996 film from Israel, is one of those works which does so much in certain areas that it's more than a little grim when it becomes clear the filmmakers didn`t have the guts to go all the way with their premise. The film feels somewhat unfinished, as if they did so much work in one place they were too exhausted to finish the rest.

The story has a strange premise. A 13-year old Russian immigrant, Clara, has the power to predict the future, and to read people`s thoughts. This sets up a catastrophic problem at her school, when her entire class receives a perfect score on the recent math test. The math teacher, with the help of the overbearing principal, attempts over and over again to actually put on a test without any cheating involved. And again and again, it fails, even after a wonderfully creative plan in which the teacher actually holds a lottery whereby the questions are picked minutes before the test is to begin. Clara, naturally, is able to tell all the students before the teacher`s arrival what those questions will be.

At the same time, a trio of hooligans who have nothing better to do with their time than smash bottles against walls and spy on people at night are in their own crisis because two of the boys obviously have crushes on Clara. The crush is so strong that it even comes to blows with a baseball bat. And to top it off, we learn that if Clara ever falls in love, she will lose her powers.

All of this is great stuff. But after about the halfway point, everything sort of petered out for me. The first half was three-star material, as it mainly focussed on the school`s concern about this possible conspiracy cooked up by the math students. It was so quirky, I was just loving it. But after a while, it disintegrated into the usual teeny-bopper stuff, Hebrew style. Talk of "revolution" haunts the words of a number of the students. As well, the principal speaks in these vague terms to Clara, in the hopes his appearing to be sympathetic to the youth`s concerns will make her stop this academic mockery. At first, I wondered what this whole talk was about. Then I dreaded it was the stupid teenage type of revolution, and this film was aimed at the teenagers who think the mere mention of the word from their peers' mouths actually meant they were people on the side of right against the tyranny of the adult world. And to prove it, let`s go around smashing bottles and trying to set the school on fire!!!

I think one of the biggest problems of the movie is Clara herself. The actress gives a somewhat listless performance, at least compared to the other actors on screen. The other characters are right in saying she does have entrancing eyes, and she does have a nice face, but she doesn`t have a really interesting character. She is humourless, and out of touch with the real world. But, then again, she isn`t really liked for her friendship but for her supernatural abilities. So she is possibly being exploited by her 'friends'. And she might be willing to help the class cheat on the test, because it`s a way to fit in. Don`t we all try out some kind of angle in order to make the rest of the world accept us? While this theory is possible, I`m still not as impressed by her as I am with others.

The film`s delight remains in the purely academic situations, as the principal and the teacher grow increasingly flabbergasted at the challenge to their intellectual and supreme authority. This ultimate exercise in cheating is seen as the ultimate insult, and these professionals are in a battle to reclaim their rights as superiors. When the teacher devises his ingenious way to conduct the test, he is in a bliss which he compares to his stint in Vietnam. This is fun stuff. And a few other wacky scenes pointed the way to a strange, and good, satire on the effects of such a unique person in society. But it didn`t go all the way.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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