Marissa Hank '20
Directed by Jean-Paul Lilienfeld, the 2008 French drama “La journée de la jupe” is loosely based on true events. A key aspect of the plot happened in real life: a request was sent to the French Secretary of Education to propose a National Skirt Day.
The intent of the request was to have the government issue a strong signal that it is legitimate for female teachers to wear a skirt, instead of complying with ultra-conservative policies that were implicitly enforced by aggressive students.
The main character, Sonia Bergerac, played by French actress Isabelle Adjani, favors wearing skirts to work. Bergerac teaches French literature at a middle school in a poor, immigrant-dominated neighborhood.
Increasingly, she resents the daily burden of racist and sexist abuse from her violent, unmotivated students, even more so since the departure of her husband. Wearing a skirt is considered a sensitive subject given the school’s large Muslim population, many of whom consider such clothing immodest.
During the rehearsal of a theatre play with one of her classes, she finds a gun in a student’s bag. She struggles to grab the gun, and a shot is fired accidentally that injures the student’s leg.
Totally overwhelmed, Bergerac emotionally loses control and takes her class hostage. While school, police and political authorities try to figure out what is going on and how to react, Bergerac forces the students to see things her way and ultimately shows them the contradictions in their own lives. Most of the students revolt against those who abuse her to side with their teacher.
Unlike in reality, when students reached out to government officials to declare a Skirt Day, the film suggests that when the police ask what conditions Bergerac needs to release the class, she demands the government declare a Skirt Day in schools each year. Even though this varies from the truth, it allows for a dramatic yet poignant ending.
Overall, while the themes discussed in the film are important for political discussions, I found the plot to grow duller and more preposterous as it unfolds, with Bergerac’s emotional, illogical antics becoming less sympathetic as the hostage situation stretches on.
However, it is hard to find the story realistic as Lilienfeld is using this story as British film critic Anton Bitel writes, “As a stark political satire, exposing all the divisions and frictions– social, sexual, racial, cultural and religious – of a modern multi-cultural France whose fragile sense of identity remains locked in a state of turbulent adolescence.”
While the subject matter and climax of this film are intense to view, the topics the movie touch upon are important to discuss. It is essential for people to express themselves through their clothing. This film demonstrates the influence a simple article of clothing maintains for a community.
The skirt may appear as a “simple garment.” However it can, like in this film, be a symbol for gender justice. The subjects covered by this emotionally charged story are essential not only for French policy but also for international discussions on gender equality.