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
At the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, two movies were able to give viewers a vivid glimpse of the very real social context they dealt with. One was the Italian crime drama Gomorra, based on a non-fiction bestseller about the Camorra's dealings. The other, which received the coveted Palme d'Or (although Gomorra is a tad more riveting), is Laurent Cantet's The Class (the original French title translates as Between the Walls), which some described as the new Dead Poets Society for obvious reasons. The comparison is legitimate but a bit weak, mostly because The Class focuses less on the Greeek tragedy structure typical of school-set dramas. Instead, it gives an incredibly accurate idea of what really goes on in an average school class.
Cantet's film is based on the eponymous book by François Bégaudeau, a former teacher who decided to inaugurate his writing career with a memoir of sorts recounting his experiences in a middle school in a Parisian suburb. Not surprisingly, when word of a cinematic adaptation came out, Bégaudeau wanted to be involved, contributing to the screenplay and taking on the lead role, virtually playing himself.
Well, not really: there's a degree of fiction in his character, at least in the fact that his last name is Marin. Everything else is spot-on, though: he gets along with his colleagues, has an intelligent teaching plan and is generally considered a good French teacher. Still, that doesn't mean there aren't problems in the class, especially when most of the 13-year old kids in there are foreign (Moroccan, Chinese, etc.). Situations range from a new student struggling to fit in to troublemakers refusing to pay attention, and it looks like some of them might not make it to the end of the academic year.
The magic of The Class is of course that it doesn't feel like a movie, but like something real, tangible - a slice of life, if you may. This is because Cantet prepared the film by selecting thousands of real students for the various parts and then going through a year-long improvisation exercise with those who made it to the final cut. In this case, though, "improvised" doesn't equal loads of swearing like in Judd Apatow's body of work (even if some of the lingo used by the kids is on the stronger side), but things people say and think when they're going through that delicate period of their life. There isn't really a point in talking about performances, save for the adults, who are nonetheless teachers in real life. These people, particularly the young ones, aren't acting, they're living. And that is a beautiful thing to behold.
It is said that movies and life do occasionally merge. Few examples are closer to the truth than The Class: it's not a biopic, it's not a documentary. It's a lesson.
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