two people sit on a printed couch in a messy room with a yellow-green wall
Courtesy Gene Siskel Film Center

This funny, thoughtful, verité look at the yearly selection process in Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts manages to pack insights about education, societal shifts, and intellectual differences without getting bogged down in culture war cliches. The filmmakers don’t shy away from showing the very real and vast chasms between prospective students, professors, and school staff, but they do so through deadpan humor and with an even hand—whoever’s in front of their camera is allowed to voice their own point of view.

The venerable building that houses the academy is as much a character as its human inhabitants; an oversized gothic-style wooden crucifixion shares hallway space with crude, tacked-up sketches, and plaster casts share studio real estate with multimedia installations. By refraining from talking-head interviews or intertitles, the film allows the viewer to feel like another teacher or student trying to get through a grueling process the best they can. There are debates about gender, style, capitalism, morality, and every other topic that naturally comes up in art school but with blessedly little of the ax-grinding or solipsism that so often replaces good-faith debate these days. It’s clear that this faculty truly has these young people’s best interests at heart, even when they laugh out loud in closed-door meetings while reviewing the kids’ half-formed exam answers. If you squint at these esteemed professionals, you can see their younger selves in the pompous but completely uncertain applicants. This is as close to the messy Platonic ideal of what an art school should be as I’ve ever seen onscreen. 102 min.

Gene Siskel Film Center