Saw this at the Rotterdam film festival (IFFR) 2016. I sat down fully in the mood to sympathize with John, given the synopsis. Our education has taught us that there is always a time to forgive and forget. Apparently the village is not ready for that, maybe just not open-minded enough. They want to uphold their defiant attitude, and don't offer John the slightest leeway to let him show he has learned from the institute where he stayed for several years. But it is easy for us to say from our comfy chair. My perspective changed gradually throughout the developments of the story.
At first, on his positive side, John does not defend himself from physical assaults or threats. Against his basic instincts he shows a strong will to prevent any cause to be expelled from school or sent back to jail. It takes some time for us to understand why he is stonewalled by his class mates, while the past is gradually revealed in bits and pieces. Yet, the unwelcoming attitude of the villagers seems overly harsh from the very outset, all things considered.
On his negative side, John's wish to return to his former school is challenging everyone involved, and it can be deemed ill-advised to begin with. Moreover, his return and non-acceptance by his peers also influences domestic relationships with his father and brother. There is no mother, and it surprised me that we don't get to know how this came about. Maybe it was irrelevant for the plot anyway. On the other hand, it could have made the story less one-dimensional. In the given situation the father has to cope on his own. A mother, of even a step mother, could have added some extra flesh to the domestic situation and the interactions with the outside world.
Later on, my attitude towards John changed to the negative side, along with a similar but more abrupt attitude change by his girlfriend. It happens all of a sudden, in a scene that clearly demonstrates John as a loose cannon and hot headed. In a later scene at the school canteen his girlfriend stated "you scare the hell out of everyone here", at the same time keeping him at arm's length, even unwilling to jointly eat their lunch. Another important protagonist is the school director. She seems a bit soft and very politically correct in the beginning. However, further to the finale, she demonstrates a firm position and a clear policy. She is not understood by everyone around, the majority of whom did not want to blame the fellow pupils, everyone being all too hasty to easily shift all the blame on John.
All in all, the synopsis had put me on the wrong foot by maneuvering me in the theoretically correct position that there always comes a time to forgive and forget, better late than never. The dramatic developments along the story line caused a change of (my) heart, and the script as such did a fine job of triggering this drastic 180 degrees change. On the other hand, the underlying reason that John does not receive a warm welcome is a bit one-dimensional, more than strictly necessary. I think that an elaborated domestic situation could have made a more colorful picture, for example by adding a (step)mother to include a bit extra tension due to some triangular father/mother/son controversies.