Published Dec 01, 2002This latest offering from the Dogme school of filmmaking showcases the worst that the movement is capable of because of its strict limitations. It couples the obligatory shaky camerawork with uneven lighting, terrible sound recording and a meandering "script" that is long on improvisational character explorations and short on coherent plot. The film is a mockumentary about the experimental pedagogical methods of a megalomaniacal acting teacher at a Belgian theatre school.
Pierre (Pierre Lekeux) terrorises his vulnerable students using a winning mix of verbal abuse and sexual harassment under the guise of his radical and innovative "Open Door Teaching" approach. His questionable practices are initially tolerated by the conservatory's staff and students because of Pierre's international acclaim as a teacher, but when he is caught on camera incontrovertibly crossing the line with a student, his supporters begin to turn away from him. That the majority of the film centres around this irredeemably unpleasant character makes Strass already quite difficult to watch. Add to this an unstructured improvised dialogue that all too often degenerates into petulant yelling matches and a glib, facile commentary about the ethics of documentary filmmaking that seems tacked-on in a vain attempt to lend some deeper meaning to the piece, and Strass becomes almost unbearable to sit through. Brief respite from this torrent of abuse comes occasionally in the form of Jerome (Jerome le Maire) as a student who is openly critical of Pierre from early on, and Lionel (Lionel Bourguet) as another teacher at the school who wants nothing to do with his colleague's twisted approach or the documentary that seeks to immortalise it. Unfortunately, the bright presence of these two and the voices of reason they represent are woefully underused in the film.