Children of My Heart (2000)
A Year in Manitoba
A brand new teacher travels to a remote prairie where she not only finds herself with a class of unruly children but the disapproval of the locals who take a dislike to her for being so young. If that sounds a little familiar, like so many other movies where we have a teacher making a difference then you would be right because there is a touch of that to "Children of my Heart". But then there is something more to this TV movie, this is a romantic melodrama as the teacher Gabrielle finds herself growing fond of her oldest student Mederic who in turn has feelings for her. Now this isn't some gritty drama about the problematic and taboo relationship of a teacher and student but more of a gentle drama which plays out in a not too surprising manner.
Having headed to the Manitoba Prairie to take up her first position as teacher Gabrielle (Geneviève Désilets) discovers it will not be like she envisioned with not only a class full of unruly children but a school trustee who insists she sticks to the proper curriculum and conducts herself in a respectable manner. To make matters worse is that in her class is Mederic (Yani Gellman), a half breed teen who doesn't want to be there and as she slowly wins him over to learning it opens up a can of worms as not only does Mederic end up having a crush on Gabrielle but she has feelings for him.
"Children of my Heart" is very much a movie of two parts with the first half treading a path very familiar to many other movies which take us into the classroom. So after a bit of reminiscing from an older Gabrielle as well as the train journey to the rural prairie town we get into familiar territory. It starts with Gabrielle meeting school trustee Miss Watson and her landlady Miss Lafleur both of which have the starchiness of an old fashioned system who lay out the rules very clearly to her, almost to the point of trying to put her off before she even starts. Their disapproval is followed by Gabrielle entering the empty classroom and having idealistic visions of how it will be only to witness the truth which is a class full of unruly kids.
It is all very familiar with characters and situations which you will see in other school room movies such as young Boris who suffers beatings from his father and Mederic the older kid who doesn't want to be there. And being familiar we have Gabrielle taking control of her class, finding away to teach a room full of diverse children whilst battling Miss Watson who disapproves of her methods. As such it is a cliche when after a short period of time the whole class has warmed to Gabrielle although thankfully we haven't really got any moments of her crusading to stop what goes on outside school.
But the classroom drama whilst being the focus of the first half becomes the backdrop to what is the main story and that is the friendship which forms between Gabrielle and half breed Mederic. It may seem far fetched but a young teen falling for a pretty teacher is not far fetched and watching Mederic turn from rebel to someone who tries to impress is surprisingly real. Although again this is not gritty realism but soft melodrama as we have Gabrielle growing fond of Mederic courting danger by spending time with this boy on the verge of being a man. Nothing initially happens but you can sense the feelings between them and it is pleasant.
Of course something does happen which leads to rejection, drama and plenty of complications all of which play out over a background of revelations as we also get to know about past relationships. All of which leads to an emotional and touching end which whilst pleasant is also a little flat. And that is the thing about "Children of my Heart" it does end up feeling a bit flat because it never goes for hard hitting drama or grittiness but a soft pleasantness even when their is heartbreak. In a daft way it is crying out for a moment of real anger to spark it into life rather than staying ultimately on one level.
Having said that when it comes to delivering pleasant the cast certainly achieve it and are well chosen. Geneviève Désilets delivers the enthusiasm and frustration of Gabrielle beautifully as well as the fear as she knows she has made a mistake. And Désilets works well with Yani Gellman who doesn't overplay the rebellious side of Mederic but gets the teenage infatuation element spot on as he tries to impress. In fact Désilets and Gellman deliver such nice performances that deep down they win you over, hoping that something may come of their taboo friendship.
What this all boils down to is that "Children of my Heart" takes the familiar school drama storyline and embellishes nicely with a touch of romantic drama. It does play out at pretty much one level but it is pleasant and also worth knowing that whilst it may seem like it has taken elements of other movies is in fact based in part on author Gabrielle Roy's own teaching experiences.
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