Although it openly lifts the plot and symbolism of Jean Vigo's 1933 "Zero de Conduit", a film that was considered so incendiary that the French authorities banned it until 1945, "If..." is a true British classic.
Taking Vigo's movie as its starting point, "If..." taps into the revolutionary spirit of the late 60s. Each frame burns with an anger that can only be satisfied by imagining the apocalyptic overthrow of everything that middle class Britain holds dear.
Malcolm McDowell heads the cast as Mick, a teenage schoolboy who leads his classmates in a revolution against the stifling conformism of his boarding school. Facing up to the bullying prefects and the incompetent teachers, Mick and his crusaders attempt to destroy the stagnant system of petty viciousness and an out-dated belief in the importance of the institution over the individual.
Anderson captures the spirit of youthful rebellion beautifully, linking it with the sweeping political changes that were dominating the headlines through the photos of Mao, Che Guevara, and Vietnam that adorn the walls of Mick's bedroom (shooting started just a few months before the May 1968 riots in Paris).
The film's greatness lies in its surreal take on these events. As the schoolyard revolution slowly kicks into gear, the film itself begins to disintegrate. The photography switches restlessly between colour and sepia, and the narrative becomes increasingly elliptical as reality and fantasy merge.
The years may have robbed it of some of its power, but "If..." still deserves the reputation as one of the best films to have come from these shores, a subversive, anti-authoritarian masterpiece that stands alongside Godard's "Weekend" and Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel" as a blistering attack on the morality and values of the middle class. To rework that famous Parisian cry of 1968: "Under the schoolyard, the beach!"