The Class (Entre Les Murs), Dir. Laurent Cantet (2008)

Rating: 6/6

François Bégaudeau (François Marin), Photo: Artificial Eye/Guardian
François Bégaudeau as teacher François Marin Photo: Artificial Eye/Guardian

This Palme D’Or winning drama The Class  has a premise that on the surface may not be so appealing to some, calling to mind Dangerous Minds. The film ostensibly following a year in the life of  Francois Marin’s  french class and the struggles and breakthroughs he undergoes teaching them.

However, it is a film that has a lot of important things to say about education, class and race and is, whats more,  able to say it in a way that isn’t mawkish or pretentious. Quite a feat.

The film manages to be entirely naturalistic (recalling in it’s naturalism Sandrine Veysset’s Will It Snow For Chritsmas? (1996)) to the point where it seems like it’s a  documentary.

None of the dialogue is laboured and none of the characters are simplified stereotypes.Which is refreshing after seeing tired old high school films (She’s All That is probably one of the worst offenders) with the same archetypal characters time and time again.

This may reflect the fact that Francois Begaudeau is actually a teacher and wrote the book of the film as well as co-writing the script. It may also be to do with the fact that the kids are not actors, and are plucked from a school very similar to the one in the film (even many of the other teachers in the film are actually teachers).

You could even say that they weren’t really acting simply playing themselves. But this is in fact testament to their acting skills as they play characters often very different to themselves. (As Begaudeau asserts the girl playing one of the most antagonistic characters Khoumba, Rachel Regulier, is actually very sweet in real life}.

The film conveys  perfectly the frustrations of teaching a class where the most simple principles are questioned. From this quite a few comic moments arrive, such as when  Francois writes a sentence in order to illustrate the meaning of a word. And inadvertently chooses the name of Bill to which one of the characters replies: “Why do you use  such funny names? Bill? So Bourgeois.”

Funny as these moments are they also highlight the racial and class tensions that constantly threaten Francois’s authority over the class.

The film centers around this use of language and the class are often audaciously verbose. Souleymane the key troublemaker of the class asking Mr. Marin whether it’s true that he likes men.

While Francois makes the mistake of saying two of the class reps (who laughed through a meeting) acted like ‘skanks’  (a word meaning prostitute to them). A mistake that leads to an escalating situation where a pupil, Soleymane, lashes out in protest accidentally hitting Khoumba and leading to his expulsion.

Many of the verbal conflicts that occur in the film between Francois and his class, show how much he wants his class to learn, he treats them like adults and expect them to behave like adults. It is in these expectations  that the film shows  how much schools are expected to moderate unruly teenager’s behaviour and make them to conform to social etiquette.

In an age where teachers have to be ever cautious of how involved they get with pupils. The film also brilliantly  shows how hard and frustrating it is for Francois to  reconcile his concern for his pupil’s welfare with an authoritative distance required as a teacher.

A fact contrasted with one of the other teachers in the school who maintains a professional distance, and is unconcerned with the consequences of punishing them.

The film manages also to combine these tensions and frustrations with moments of unexpected breakthroughs. Such as when Esmeralda announces (after declaring the school’s literature to be useless) that she has been reading Plato’s Republic (sounds a little improbable but was actually based upon a real-life incident). Or when Souleymane produces a moving self-portrait with photos of his mother.

And this is why the film really works, it neither indicts or exalts the pupils or the teacher. They are human in their frailties and achievements. An insightful and thought-provoking film.


1 Comment

  1. best movie i’ve seen in a while, thought it was an extremely realistic eloquent analysis from yourself 😉

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