It’s hard to talk about Ivan I. Tverdovsky’s “Corrections Class” immediately after seeing it because it’s simply overwhelming, emotionally and intellectually. I walked out of the theater sort of slack-jawed and agog, unable to put the experience into words. The film has a manic, madcap energy, and an immediate, visceral and jarring audio and visual presence. This is chaotic, and in that chaos, true and unflinching moments are revealed, funny and dark and bruising and absurd.
The film opens with a scene that is an accurate bellwether for the darkness that it explores. Lena (Maria Poezhaeva) is with her mother on the way to her first day at school when they are stopped at the train tracks where a boy has been hit. They try, but it’s impossible to avoid the splatter of blood and bone. Lena is wheelchair-bound with a muscular disease, myopathy. She’s been assigned to the Corrections class, which is a bit like special ed, though the students there don’t seem to have any mental disabilities, but rather physical ones such as dwarfism, epilepsy, stuttering.
Lena is immediately taken in by her new school friends, hanging out after school in scenes that capture the wild giddiness of teenage freedom. They scam money for snacks, hang out by the train tracks, flirt and tease and fight. Their main hobby (aside from bullshitting) is tempting fate lying underneath oncoming trains (the dead boy was one of them). They do it for the adrenaline rush, and the activity captures that razor’s edge between dangerous fun and outright body horror on which the film tiptoes.
Lena is drawn to the handsome Anton (Filipp Avdeyev) and first love blooms quickly. Tverdovsky perfectly captures the headrush and raging hormones of teenage love. But their flowering sexual tension reverberates throughout the group, sending shockwaves that spur the gossipy Vika and the brutish, violent Misha (Nikita Kukushkin), not to mention the parents and teachers.
The camera is a constantly roaming and immediate entity, in the mix of the group of kids at eye-level. The sound design also emphasizes the immediacy, the dialogue constantly overlapping and interrupting. The audience is positioned as a member of the group itself, privy to all the intimate moments, conflicts, slights, outrageous joy, and deep wells of darkness among them. The adults (and it’s interesting to note it’s all women, there is but one male adult in the film, briefly) attempt to exert moral superiority over the kids, but they are just as, if not more, chaotic and corrupt, their scolding and yells a cacophony that sometimes erupts in a flurry of slaps and smacks. Lena faces outright discrimination at her school for her disability, from the very first second, as she and her mother fight their way through a crowd, up and down steps, scolded for being late by the very, very evil headmistress. Lena is damned on all sides for her body: for its disability, and for its sexuality. She takes it with her head high, laughing in its face most days.
The performances are all remarkable, considering that some of the teens appear to be non-professionals. Poezhaeva and Avdeyev are remarkable, as well as the menacing and manic Kukushkin. “Corrections Class” is a bracing jolt of fresh cinematic blood. It’s a film teeming with intense emotions that cover the spectrum of the human experience. It is wild, audacious, and seethes with a manic energy. The wholly unique style marks an auspicious debut for Tverdovsky that should not be missed. [A]