Monday, January 04, 2010

Movie Review: The Class (2008)

Entre les murs

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It will have been many years since most of us sat in a high school classroom. If the literature on the modern generation of children is anything to go by, then the classroom has changed a lot. If you wonder what it is like in a modern classroom, then the French film, Entre les murs (The Class) might be just for you.

Based on the teacher and novelist Francois Begaudeau's own experience as a teacher, the semi-improvised The Class takes us inside a contemporary Parisian school for two hours of riveting dialogue. For most of the film, we see one multicultural classroom with flashes out to some of the students' private lives and the teachers' staff room. Francois is brilliant playing himself as the teacher and the classroom of non-actors portray a rich array of different students' attitudes, backgrounds, and approaches to learning and life.

The Class is not flashy or action packed and there is no CGI (oh dear!). It is, in fact, quite mundane as classroom life unfolds over the year we spend with these adolensents. But tensions begin to form and there is a telling, but surely common, climax as one of the students presents a particularly challenging situation for his teacher.

When I started watching The Class I believed it was a documentary. Part way through, I paused the DVD because I had to find out whether it was or not. To my amazement I discovered that the whole thing was a mostly scripted screenplay. French director, Laurent Cantet, has used high definition cameras that prowl around the classroom and amongst the students in a way that makes us feel as though we are right there in the  middle of the action.

The Class is like no other school movie we have seen. Forget the sensationalist offerings like Dead Poets Society or To Sir With Love (both good in their own right!). The Class is about regular kids in a regular classroom challenging  regular teacher to deal with regular problems! We see the self-discovery of some; the resistance of others; the insight of learning; and feel the pain of those who feel excluded.

The Class was the first film to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival since 1987 and, according to Sean Penn, who was the jury president at the time, the vote was unanimous. It was also France's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars in 2009.

The Class is a delight to watch and is truly a creative production. Being a teacher in the modern world can be a very challenging prospect! This movie should be on the curriculum for all would-be teachers. (Available on DVD)


Positive Review
'Cantet's real-time classroom scenes are revelations: They make you understand that teaching is moment to moment, an endless series of negotiations that hang on intangibles—on imagination and empathy and the struggle to stay centered. This is a remarkable movie.' - David Edelstein/New York Magazine

Negative Review
'The Class is a one-trick show: once you spot its approach, the narrative falls into a routine. To the "insiders," the film is as familiar as an an aerial virtual reality ride would be to an airplane pilot. (This is hardly a surprise, since Bégaudeau was himself once an insider, though now safe in a film critic's chair.)' - Matthew Sorrento/Film Threat

Content Advice

USA: PG-13

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