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Jenny is supposed to take a proper education at a British boarding school, carry on to read English at Oxford, and finally become a decent member of the establishment. She likes Piaf and Sartre, and chooses smoking French cigarettes over studying Latin any time. David, the handsome older guy with the fancy car and the generous savoir-vivre lifestyle, naturally appeals to her. She follows his “school of life” approach, doubting the benefit of boring stuff leading to more boring stuff.
This is the category “mainstream art house” that I usually do not like too much: happiness, followed by sorrow and despair, followed by relief and a bit of sadness. What distinguishes “An education” from less interesting films like “Les Choristes” of the same category are primarily the actors, namely Alfred Molina as Jenny’s grumpy but well-intentioned father, Peter Sarsgaard as the exciting David who shakes Jenny’s life, and finally Jenny herself, played by Carey Mulligan who looks the French femme fatal that she so strongly desires to be, paired with Lolita and all other dangerous things. (Rosamund Pike as teacher Helen is actually also quite good, but seems too pretty for the role, and looks a bit as if in a carnival mask when trying to look the grey and unsexy teacher). Director Lone Scherfig (of “Italian for Beginners” fame, at least that’s what I associate with her: showing that Dogma films can look great and be fun). The story itself crouches along the lines that you would expect, only with a bit of odd pacing, as the script gives ample time at the exposition, but when the drama ensues, suddenly the film is over (I understand this kind of film relies a lot on what the theatres can accommodate, but really: allow five minutes more and the film has a proper resolution).
I am not sure why the film is a serious Oscar contender, but no doubt it is a substantial drama about temptation and convention, about conservatism and rebellion – and as such it almost works out. I am not sure whether the final scene (the final real scene, there are some more quite unnecessary minutes after that) should be called strong and consequent, or just again fulfilling expectations (maybe because I just don’t know whether everybody would have the same expectation at this point). An engine starts, a car departs, and the film leaves you wondering whether a catastrophe just happened, or whether all is fine now. That ambiguity is at least something.

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