It All Starts Today: A Movie That Tells of the Importance of Public Schools

In a town that used to be rich and is now drowning in unemployment, the director of a public school fights to stop the various misfortunes that are devastating his students and their families. This movie is a tribute to the value of public schools and their employees.
It All Starts Today: A Movie That Tells of the Importance of Public Schools
Cristina Roda Rivera

Written and verified by the psychologist Cristina Roda Rivera.

Last update: 24 October, 2023

It All Starts Today is a French film, released in 1999 and directed by French director Bertrand Tavernier. It’s an absolute masterpiece that recounts the life of a public school in an extreme situation. It’s also a tribute to the families that, generation after generation, continue to build the world. They’re the invisible people who continue to be beaten by the system without mercy.

The film tells the story of Daniel Lefebvre (Philippe Torreton), the son of a miner and director of a nursery school in Hernaing, near Valenciennes in northern France. He practices his profession with passion in a region that was once wealthy but is now plagued by unemployment. Daniel becomes aware that he must intervene and try to alleviate a situation that’s affecting the children at his school.

It All Starts Today shows the radical fight of a teacher against bureaucracy, double standards, and misery in a city doomed by unemployment. It’s the story of someone who believes in the life and future of his students. Indeed, it’s the young children who are the true protagonists.

The movie could certainly be described as militant. It defends the public school as the guarantor of equality, solidarity, and human potential of an entire society.

It All Starts Today: a teacher against the system

The screenplay for It All Starts Today was written by Dominique Sampiero, Bertrand Tavernier, and Tiffany Tavernier. It was a script inspired by Sampiero’s own experience as a director of a nursery school in the north of France. It’s an ambitious drama halfway between film and documentary.

In one of the first scenes, Mrs. Henry, one of the mothers, arrives extremely late to pick up her daughter Laetitia. She wants to kiss her but breaks down completely because she’s so drunk. Embarrassed, she runs away and abandons her daughter and baby at the nursery school.

Daniel decides to take the children home despite the regulations that prohibit such behavior. This incident leads him to contemplate the state of abandonment and neglect in the children’s home, with a mother beset by debts and a truck driver father who’s trying his best to get ahead.

The unanswered fight

Daniel Lefebvre is aware that the school is the place where many of the weak points of a system lacking in resources come to the surface in all their harshness.

Daniel carries out his work as director of social services, overwhelmed by the number of cases there are to attend to. Indeed, it’s the children who are the first victims of the socioeconomic debacle. They live in extreme situations due to the impotence of some and the neglect of others.

The stormy Torreton injects a tone of personal outrage in the role of Daniel, who faces constant emergencies. Whether it’s the abused children at school or his girlfriend’s son with behavioral problems, he’s always saving someone.

Unsurprisingly, when his father has a heart attack, he rushes to the rescue. When a couple says they can’t wake up in time to send their son to school, he tells them how wonderful their son is and that school will do him so much good.

As a matter of fact, Daniel is like a stubborn young boy who’s deeply attached to his work as a teacher. He has no time to judge families for their problems but, at the same time, he has to report all kinds of abuse.

It All Starts Today: a strong defense of the crucial role of the public school

With a handheld panoramic camera, the movie transitions from realism to melodrama, often humorously but not always successfully.

The film awakens our senses, making us aware of how brutally realistic it is. We believe and suffer along with all the characters. The misfortunes we witness are predictable but also completely avoidable.

In fact, the script reviews many of the challenges and problems facing Western societies and their public schools in extreme situations.

Problems such as lack of solidarity, unemployment, pockets of poverty in the midst of opulence, drugs, alcoholism, family breakups of all kinds, paternal and maternal brutality, difficulties in reconciling dedication to work and family, and the carelessness of parents.

The role of the family

It All Starts Today also investigates the potential of the family itself as a social agent, especially in its support for educators.

The movie raises the need to rebuild the family nucleus. The families portrayed suffer greatly from unemployment and from many other destabilizing factors. This means the task of the teacher becomes blurred. The students come home and nobody pays any attention to what they read or what they eat. Nobody helps them do their homework.

Unfortunately, in many cases, everything that a teacher achieves is spoiled by families. Therefore, Western society needs to recover the series of moral and civic values that have been lost or distorted. For instance, work-life balance, parental care for children, and respect from families for the work of teachers.

It All Starts Today won an honorable mention and the International Critics Award at the Berlin Film Festival. It received about 30 minutes of applause after its win.

This movie had the backing of the French and international public and won an award at the San Sebastian Festival (Spain), as well as praise from most critics. It remains a classic. Furthermore, it’s the best possible movie for making us understand the priceless value of public schools.

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