Published Jan 21, 2017There are plenty of documentaries about educational systems around the world, though most employ talking head interviews to make their point about the myriad issues facing today's youth. In Loco Parentis is somewhat unique in that it avoids overt social commentary in favour of simply letting the cameras roll on a year at an Irish school.
That said, Headfort is no ordinary school. The prestigious boarding school welcomes students from around the globe to enjoy its top-tier educators, sprawling acreage and majestic buildings. It's the sort of breathtaking facility that seems like it was specifically designed for a movie. Fortunately, Ní Chianáin does more than just have her subjects chew the scenery; she's been offered remarkably in-depth access to the school's goings-on, and she makes the most of it.
From the get go, we're introduced to the eccentric John and Amanda Leyden, a married couple who live on the school's grounds and take pride in teaching the children. In lieu of interviews, much of the film's storyline is exposed through their regular smoke-break chats.
We soon learn that the Leydens are deeply dedicated to getting the most out of their children, and they hone in on certain kids with specific needs. Amanda addresses young Ted's dyslexia head-on, allowing him to triumph by giving him a key role in a play. Eliza, meanwhile, suffers from crippling shyness, nary speaking a word, but John eventually coaxes her personality out with his endless witticisms and playful, faux-grumpy persona.
In Loco Parentis could have hammered home a message about class, private education and privilege, but the film succeeds by keeping things subtle. Like a modern update on Seven Up!, viewers are simply given a fly-on-the-wall opportunity that shows children simply acting like children. It's a warm, gentle and enjoyable watch, and though it doesn't offer any Earth-shattering revelations, it never feels like anything's missing, either. (Soilsiu Films)