The ClassDirected by: Laurent Cantet Cast: François Bégaudeau Time: 2 hrs 8 mins Rating: Not yet rated
Plot: A middle school teacher (Bégaudeau), in a multi-ethnic public school outside of Paris ,spends a year struggling with a crop of resistant students. As he tries to do his job - which is to teach his pupils how to read, write and speak proper French - he finds himself constantly at odds with their rebelliousness, their sharpening intellect and the surprising things he doesn't know about them that makes each one an individual. As he works to find the balance between teaching and preaching, he lets his temper get the better of him. Consequences, both for himself and for his students, aren't far behind.
Who’s It For? Though it's award-winning, the film is not for those expecting much plot or action. Almost all of the movie takes place in the same room, and very little happens outside of it. The Class is for viewers who are looking to subtext. They'll find it here... along with little else.
Expectations: It's not only the film that took home the top prize (the coveted Palm d'Or) at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, but it's also France's official submission for the foreign language Oscar. So ultimately, depending on your taste in film, this one's got a lot to live up to.
Actors: François Bégaudeau as François Martin: Bégaudeau wrote the 2006 novel Entre les murs, upon which the film is loosely based. It isn't exactly a stretch for him, considering the fact that the story, about the struggles of an inner city literature teacher, is semi-autobiographical. So in essence, Bégaudeau plays himself, and he does it well. He establishes his character, which is defined by his constant attempts to engage his students that always end in petty arguments that no one can win. His frustration, his passion, and his genuine concern for each of the students he interacts with are clear. Score: 7
Classroom ensemble: Though Bégaudeau is the only credited cast member, it's the class members themselves that bring the film to life. Director Cantet used real students from a real Paris school to fill out the ensemble, which uses largely directed improvisation to achieve the hyper-realistic, naturalist feel. The performances, though not professional in nature, work well and are believable almost to a fault. The combination of such contrasting personalities in an intellectually charged environment makes recalling middle school uncomfortably easy. Score:8
Talking:The film is obviously subtitled in English, and the translation is effective. The film moves merrily along it's first hour or so without establishing even a semblance of a plot, and seems to do so unapologetically by featuring stretches of the many heated arguments that seem to plague Martin each day. We hear all about the students' self-portrait assignments, which soccer teams they each support and even a little about their home lives. They bicker over everything from whether Martin is gay to why it's important to learn proper French in the first place. What the audience doesn't pick up on until about halfway through the film is why we're watching. The story arch that does exist, which follows the troubled Souleymane (Franck Keita) from his angry outbursts in class to his ultimate expulsion hearing, is barely defined as such. The true meat of the film is in the social interactions, and how the multitude of dialogue paired with almost no action still does much to establish character. Score: 9
Sights & Sounds: Virtually nothing to report. The film lingers in mostly the same room - and certainly the same school - for its entire length, and the realism that is so evident in the film's setting would be remarkable, where it not for the fact that it was, indeed, a real classroom. Instead, there really is nothing to see but almost two hours of students arguing with a teacher, and virtually nothing to hear except for dialogue. What is made obvious by The Class, though, is just how tedious a process teaching and learning can be, especially when neither party knows how to communicate with the other. Score: 3
Best Scene: Toward the end, at what is apparently supposed to be the film's pinnacle, there's a hearing to determine whether the unruly Souleymane is to be expelled for his violent behavior in class. There's a level of tension brought on by the language barrier between Souleymane's mother and the board. Couple that with Keita's impressive ability to relate such a complicated range of emotions. All of this is combined with the brutally-realisitc approach to shooting and editing employed by Cantet that make it the rich and multi-layered story audiences had hoped for for hours leading up to it.
Ending: The Class ends rather abruptly, which would have been surprising before actually watching the first half of it. It makes several inexplicable jumps in time that ultimately become clear, but the leap from Souleymane's climactic expulsion hearing to the end of the school year seems especially jarring. It becomes clear that Martin's battle is a continuing one, one he can't win on every front, and one that can sometimes get the better of him.
Questions: Just like Sights & Sounds, virtually nothing to report.
Rewatchability: Though there isn't much action, fans of the film will undoubtedly have much to digest in the film's volumes of dialogue. There's lots to absorb, and if you weren't bored the first time, a second viewing may certainly make the film's themes gel just a bit better.
OVERALL Though it's arguably overlong and under-paced from an American perspective, The Class is quite an impressive achievement in realistic filmmaking. It provides an unparalleled look into the lives and minds of teenagers not just from France but teens in general . Ultimately it shows how severe the disconnect between teaching and learning can be. Final Score: 7/10