The Class Reviews
From a thematic perspective, The Class's American counterparts are Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers, but these films often deploy the teacher-as-savior motif that characterizes much of how teachers are portrayed in cinema. In these films the teacher becomes a moral coach before s/he concentrates on course content. S/he is teacher-as-inspiration before teacher-as-teacher. But this motif is not deployed in The Class. Though we certainly have moments when Marin delves into a moral tangent, I cannot say that he emerges as the unquestioned hero in the way that protagonists in other films do. And if the film questions the protagonist, it does so subtly. In fact, toward the beginning, educator to educator, I couldn't tell what he was doing wrong.
Oftentimes the film is quite bleak, portraying student resistance in realistic and dramatically compelling ways. And though by the end of the film, we're left wondering how education is even possible, there is a measure of hope in the realization that the system of pedagogy is generally sound, that students are generally well-meaning and capable, and that somehow many people emerge from the morass of adolescence and structured schooling as predominantly well-adjusted individuals.
Overall, The Class is a remarkable film that proves beyond a doubt that teaching is the hardest job on the planet.
"To Sir, with Love", "Dead Poet Society", "Dangerous Minds", "Mona Lisa Smile" are the names I can remember now, but I´m sure there are many others.
Some of them are really good or, at least, do what they are suppose to: to inspire. Inspiration. That´s where resides the great difference of "Entre Les Murs": it doesn´t have this ambition/ goal at all.
Based on the same-name novel written by the teacher François Bégaudeau, that plays himself on screen, the film shows the relationship teacher/student in a multi-ethnic and contemporary suburb of Paris, where the teachers are evrything but a hero.
Like Gus Van Sant did in "Elephant", Laurent Cantet chose a cast of real teachers and students/non-actors, what gives the film a natural and realistic atmosphere. The cast + the movements and proximity of the camera + the dialogues give the impression of a documentary that shows the difficulties of teaching in an info modern society
and brings up important issues in France today: immigration, race, French identity, suburbs (banlieues) versus cities and changes in the spoken French language.
Teacher and novelist François Bégaudeau plays a version of himself as he negotiates a year with his racially mixed students from a tough Parisian neighborhood.
The Class ('Entre Les Murs') is more of an experience than a film. Based on the book 'Entre Les Murs' by teacher François Bégaudeau who also wrote the screenplay and stars in the film as the unique teacher François Marin, this thoughtful and challenging story is presented in a style that could only be termed 'French verismo'. If it feels like a documentary for the first part, that is to the credit of the author and the director Laurent Cantet: we, the viewers are taken into the classroom where the majority of the film takes place, lingering there through discussions between teacher and the varied ethnic group of students who challenge (with good thought) the teaching techniques and subjects of discussion in Marin's days of attempting to 'educate' a somewhat reluctant audience. The subject of the course may be French, but the incongruities of language spread into areas of conflict of the meaning of words and the 'out of date' subjects of grammar that occupy Marin's course outline.
Another fascinating aspect of this film about education in schools populated by 'difficult students' is the use of the device of entr'acte - diversions from the classroom into the teachers' lounge where we learn even more about the education and varied sociological systems and age and experience differences among the faculty influence that is at the core of this film. It all sounds and seems so extemporaneous that it makes the messages conveyed all the more powerful. Many will find this film too 'talky': there are almost no excursions outside the school and certainly no 'sidebars' to show the extracurricular lives of the mixed group of well drawn and acted students. The story unfolds slowly, like a conversation, and is offered by a set of actors who disappear completely into their roles. This is one of the few 'classroom films' that elects to inform rather than to preach and features a teacher who is as fallible as the students. Many lessons are here in this Class.
But that isn't saying much, as this genre has a history of atrociously bad films. Francois Begaudeau, who stars in the film and who wrote the memoir upon which the film is based, is that rare middle-class adult who gets lower-class teens. This is not to say that he's their biggest fan. The photo above gives the impression that the classroom is friendly and warm. This is misleading marketing. The classroom is actually more like a battleground. The film is made in a documentary style, but it was scripted. The actors appear all to be non-professionals. And for once, actual teens (not 21-year-olds) are playing the teens. I also get the sense that the teenagers contributed to the script. In many scenes, the dialogue is so authentically adolescent that it's almost eerie.
As usual in films like this, problems arise when they dig too deeply into the drama of the teens. Whenever you stare too deeply at a teen, they start to break up. Perhaps this is because they don't have a center yet. They're still hazy. When two of the girls become vindictive against their teacher, it feels phony. I cannot see teens devising schemes with such precision. In my experience, teens live completely in the moment and can barely notice patterns across time, much less devise strategies that require planning across time. When one of these girls ends up reading Plato's "Republic" for pleasure, I also felt the authenticity of the film starting to fray.
Another slight misfire comes when the most troubled boy, Souleymane, gets into serious disciplinary trouble at the school. Here the film has the opposite problem. It doesn't give the character enough mental coherence. A boy being considered for expulsion from school (and possible deportation) is going to have some thoughts and feelings about it. The film seemed not even to try to get in his head. Scratch the surface of any sullen boy and you get a torrent of emotion and thought. I wish the actor playing Souleymane had had the guts to suggest meaningful dialogue for this boy.
With these weaknesses, however, "The Class" still ends up being an important and intriguing film. At times it beautifully captures the maelstrom of braggadocio and shame that is the hallmark of adolescence. The supporting cast of teachers also seems remarkably authentic.
It's a pleasure to see a group of adults struggling genuinely with the unique problems of educating lower-class students. This is one of the great intractable problems of the Western world today. Throw immigration into the mix, which "The Class" does in a very bold way, and you get a cauldron of complex issues to think about. "The Class" does not provide much in the way of solutions, but at least it puts the problems on the table in a way that is for the most part tremendously real.
A film handled in a style almost like a documentary involving a teacher in an inner city school in Paris. However, instead of being on of those very cliche "poor kids learn from the hip and perfect teacher" movies, this film has a great and real feel to it. The dialog bounces off the students and the teacher nicely and we don't have any needless student backstories that we've seen in plenty of other movies.
The story is based on an autobiographical novel written by the same man who plays the teacher, Mr. Marin. It revolves around a year at a school in Paris. the kids are not necessarily poor or underprivileged, but the majority are certainly minorities and have trouble focusing in school.
During the film we see various events involving the students and some choices made by Mr. Marin, attempting to be hip or understandable. He is a French teacher and works at trying to get his students to speak and write better, and while he means well, his banter with students often gets them to go off topic.
Despite this however, Marin defends his students in the teacher meetings, especially when it comes to the idea of holding them back more or making something out of escalated situations.
The movie works for the most part at having an improvised sense of style, with only a few of the more scripted moments showing through, but there are enough well handled moments, as well as little quick moments that can be picked up and made to enjoy the film even more. Well done.
Mr. Marin: Would you read please?
Esmeralda: I would be delighted to.
A wonderful movie which deserved the Palme d'Or it got at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, making it the first French film to do so since 1987, when Maurice Pialat won the award for Under the Sun of Satan. The uniqueness of this film is that the camera never leaves the school. The film is set in the staff room, the playground, the dining room, the principal's office, a conference room, and the classroom where François Marin (François Bégaudeau) is a form tutor who teaches the French language to a mixed group of 14- and 15-year-olds. Nothing is shown of the homes of staff and pupils! Honest and heart-warming life story about a teacher who is neither weary cynic nor wide-eyed idealist... just a decent, determined realist. Do not look at this character as a saint, though by the end of the school year he has exhibited certain of the necessary qualities to be categorised as one.
Francois Begaudeau, the teacher and writer of the autobiography on which the film was based takes the lead role, the pupils all use their own names,and their parents are actually their parents, so unsurprisingly this comes across as documentary rather than fiction. I..e not a lot actually happens. Which is good compared to the life-changing epiphanies that regularly pop up in your average "inspirational" teaching drama (Dead Poets Society, Dangerous Minds, Mr Hollands Opus, School of Rock, a billion others). I also had a sneaky sympathy with the unruly students who after all had to deal with a teacher who encouraged them to think freely and then played the authority card whenever they challenged him. Overall though, I found it all a little... throws chalk, wake up, you at the back..... dull.
Once I saw this a second time and had to write about it, comparing and contrasting with The 400 Blows, it made me appreciate it even more.
It would be quite easy to mistake this film for a documentary. Its story of classroom challenges comes straight from a teacher who has experienced this all first-hand. The performances of teachers and students alike are pitch-perfect, genuine and rich, and the 'fly-on-the-wall' style of filmmaking is perfectly appropriate for capturing the tedium of modern teaching. Essentially, the film simply charts one teacher's futile attempts to reach a class of mixed-race 14-year-olds in inner city Paris.
Francois Begaudeau, the teacher who wrote the book on which this film is based, plays Mr. Marin. His sincere attempts to educate this class ( and to reach the smarter students amongst the group) are continuously thwarted, mainly by student insolence, and those many, mind-numbing, endlessly cyclical conversations that consume classroom time and teacher attention. For most part, the film is simply a document of these struggles, though it reaches a sort of climax after tempers flare in the classroom and one student's future education is put on the line.
At times, the film does drag a little, but this only contributes to its slowly-building impact. In the end the film's effect will take audience by suprise...