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October 12, 2009 | by  | in Film |
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An Education

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An Education is the latest film from Danish director Lone Scherfig. Her breakthrough film, Italian for Beginners, made Danish director Lars von Trier vomit when he saw it. This is the same Lars von Trier who directed Antichrist and orgy-tastic The Idiots; the same Lars von Trier who published a diary he had kept while filming The Idiots that disclosed his affair with, and then masturbation to pictures of, one of the film’s lead actresses. Scherfig’s breakthrough romantic comedy made him vomit. Reportedly.

All this indicates, however, is von Trier’s apparent inability to feel joy. Far from being vomit-worthy, Italian for Beginners was a complete 180-degree turn from the less-than-uplifting films that had come to define the Dogme style, and was better for it. Now, nine years on, Scherfig is back in the spotlight, with another film that might make von Trier throw up in his mouth a little.

An Education starts in a 1960s classroom full of English schoolgirls, the teacher asking the girls questions about Jane Eyre. The significance of this becomes painfully obvious ten minutes in, when protagonist Jenny meets the Byronic David, a witty and charming older man with a sports car. The two fall into a passionate relationship, Jenny intoxicated by his worldliness, wealth, and wit. The story may be simple, but Nick Hornby’s screenplay captures the wide-eyed idealism and impulsiveness of teenage life excellently. Furthermore, it’s a consistently funny, affecting script, sweeping the audience up in its clever dialogue and perfectly measured central relationship.

The exuberance and headiness of Hornby’s script is transferred to the screen excellently by Scherfig. We, the audience, are just as caught up in Jenny’s rapidly changing world as she is, and while we suspect something unpleasant is looming over the horizon (as something always is), it seems irrelevant given how much fun we’re having. It helps that Jenny is played by the infectiously charismatic and very talented Carey Mulligan. As a girl who suddenly finds herself in a world that was off-limits to her until recently, Mulligan cuts an endlessly endearing figure, imbuing Jenny with an innocence and naïveté that is unsuccessfully disguised with gratuitous French and a love of Pre-Raphaelites. She holds her own superbly against a supporting cast at the top of their game, with Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike, Emma Thompson and Dominic Cooper all giving fantastic performances.

If An Education has one problem, however, it’s that the final fifteen minutes feel muddled. As event after event piles up, it becomes less clear what Hornby and Scherfig are trying to say. The film takes too strong a stance on education, love, and a woman’s ‘place’ in 1960s society to be saying nothing at all. However, the pile-up of emotions and earth-shattering events in those final fifteen minutes mess up and render cryptic any pertinent or interesting point the film is trying to make. Indeed, by the time Jenny’s awfully smug closing narration ends the film, it seems that the film is only espousing views that are either highly dubious or internally inconsistent, and this undermines an otherwise hilarious, captivating film.

An Education
Directed by Lone Scherfig
Written by Nick Hornby
With Carey Mulligan, Olivia Williams and Alfred Molina

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