François (François Bégaudeau) and his fellow teachers prepare for a new year at a high school in a tough Paris neighbourhood. Armed with the best intentions, they brace themselves to not let discouragement stop them from trying to give the best education to their students. Cultures and attitudes often clash in the classroom, a microcosm of contemporary France. As amusing and inspiring as the teenaged students can be, their difficult behaviour can still jeopardise any teacher's enthusiasm for the low-paying job. François insists on an atmosphere of respect and diligence. Neither stuffy nor severe, his classroom ethics are nevertheless put to the test ...
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Winning the directing award at Cannes, as Laurent Cantet did with this film in 2008, is no mean feat; it is a recommendation to film fans who are guided by the imperatives of cinema as distinct from popular fare. That's not meant to be either elitist or derogatory. The Class is at once documentary (based on a book by François Bégaudeau about his own experiences) and drama (taking the content and recreating it). But Cantet, using three cameras to achieve the absolute in what they call 'coverage' in filmmaking, achieves a hybrid that is so naturalistic as to be uber-documentary in its reflection of the observations within.
Consequently, it seems odd to refer to performances since the characters do not seem to be 'acted'; this is perhaps the biggest reason for the film's impact, because the episodic nature of the book cannot be welded together into a story - and therein lies the film's only downside. The absence of a plot in which development occurs lessens the satisfaction factor, even though it enhances its power.
What The Class isn't, is predictable teacher genre filmmaking, in which embattled teacher breaks through tough teenagers to achieve respect and tutorial success. These are elements that are notable for their absence, and the resolution we might want to experience simply doesn't happen. It's a film that catches France with its bourgeois pants down, its cultural kindergarten exposed in limbo and its people vulnerable to dizzying uncertainty.
Much of the film's social context comes from the sheer diversity of ethnic cultures represented in class, from Arab to African to mixed, which doesn't play out as expected. It's not racist tension that erupts but good old human angst and teenage disdain. The class takes us through just about every powderkeg emotion except sex, from frustration to pathos, from bitter to sweet, from arrogance and ignorance to genuine affection. It's a unique film that doesn't look for or offer catharsis; it's as tough as the truth.
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CLASS, THE (M)
Entres les murs
CAST: François Bégaudeau, Nassim Amrabt, Laura Baquela, Cherif Rachedi, Juliette Demaille, Dalla Doucoure, Arthur Fogel, Damien Gomes
PRODUCER: Caroline Benjo, Carole Scotter
DIRECTOR: Laurent Cantet
SCRIPT: François Bégaudeau, Laurent Cantet (book by Bégaudeau)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pierre Milon
EDITOR: Robin Campillo
RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 22, 2008