Character actor Michael Shannon has been nominated for his second Oscar for his role in the 2016 thriller Nocturnal Animals. "No Small Parts" takes a look at some of the other characters he's played in the past.
Teacher François Marin and his colleagues are preparing for another school year teaching at a racially mixed inner city high school in Paris. The teachers talk to each other about their prospective students, both the good and the bad. The teachers collectively want to inspire their students, but each teacher is an individual who will do things in his or her own way to achieve the results they desire. They also have differing viewpoints on the students themselves, and how best to praise and discipline them. The administration of the school tries to be as fair as possible, which includes having student representatives sit on the student evaluation committee. Marin's class this year of fourteen and fifteen year olds is no different than previous years, although the names and faces have changed. Marin tries to get through to his students, sometimes with success and sometimes resulting in utter failure. Even Marin has his breaking point, which may result in him doing things he would ... Written by
a great naturalistic film and a gem of inside-the-classroom drama
Whether you respond positively or negatively to The Class, it's hard to argue that it is authentic to a very great degree. This isn't some Hollywood pablum starring Sam Jackson or Hilary Swank or even Dangerous Minds. This is taken- and starring- from the horse's mouth, a teacher who taught in the more multi-ethnic areas of Paris and via Cantet's direction, and it involved me like few films about the educational system ever have. No little drama involving the students, or rather crucial for that matter, lack any significance for the audience because from the moment we enter the classroom with Mr. Marin the camera keeps an eye on the details. Nothing is left out that might make anyone, teacher or the variety of student, look less than human. No one comes out at the end of The Class looking like they've reached the top of the world, and no one's a real hero or villain. At worst (and it's a sad but very true little moment), one kid says simply to Mr. Marin at the end of the last class that nothing was really retained from the past nine months.
After seeing The Class it brought back so many memories of school; like the 400 Blows the Class reminds us how absolutely rotten it is to be a 13 to 15 year old school-kid, but unlike Truffaut's film this is about an institution and its functions right in the heart of the matter. The teacher in The Class, real life teacher François Bégaudeau, casts such a convincing portrait because he doesn't have to really "act" or try to pretend he's a great teacher. He just is. He cares about all of his students deeply, but he's also firm when he needs to and knows, for the most part, how to reach them without going too far or coddling. It's a fine line he needs to walk since the class, made up of an ethnic melting pot as the saying goes, is smart and intelligent, and at its best we see this class participating and really in the grip of stirring conversation, even when it's about something that Mr. Marin has to handle with tact like when a student asks bluntly if he's homosexual, or when he has to deal with a young black girl who is slagging in participating in class.
It's the kind of naturalistic film-making that works because it's a synergy of the personal, of what is very well known and felt and learned about this world, and how to observe it. Some might say it's a "talking heads" movie with a pretty basic style, but the direction is wise by never getting in the way. Seeing these kids faces, and seeing the dynamic of conversations go on behind the closed doors of the faculty (some of these conversations, sometimes heated or just intense, are amazing not because of conventional dramatic power of one-side-versus-another but because of the thought put into these people, how tough decisions have to be made under certain circumstances).
It's strongest as a character piece, but also as a minor revelation into the bittersweet lot of teaching in an area like the 3/4 in Paris. There's a student who is troublesome, doesn't do work, is disruptive, but Marin wants to try and reach him. Another complication occurs due to a blow-up against a couple of chatty girls who were the "class reps" at a faculty meeting, and it sets a small chain of events that emphasizes chiefly how untenable the situation is and at the same time why it shouldn't be. This most major chunk of the film, about the student's possible expulsion, is one thing that makes The Class become even more absorbing than before, but it should be pointed out that from scene to scene nothing is left to chance. The cinema verite approach makes things move emotionally but unsentimentally; nothing is left for us to see these characters as what they are, which makes it so rewarding and heartbreaking when "things" happen as they do in movies. At one point something seemingly minor is revealed- a Chinese student, learning French little by little, may lose her mother to deportation. Not minor, it's all apart of another school day. A+
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