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Reviews & Ratings for
The Class More at IMDbPro »Entre les murs (original title)

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104 out of 116 people found the following review useful:

The dynamics of a multi-ethnic Paris middle school class skillfully recreated

10/10
Author: Chris Knipp from Berkeley, California
15 September 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Laurent Cantet (Human Resources, Time Out, Heading South) shot multiple improvised takes of real students and a real teacher using three cameras to make The Class (Entre les murs), a remarkable new film about what happens over the course of a year between a single collège (junior high or middle school) class in the multi-ethnic 20th arrondissment of Paris and their French teacher. The accomplishment has been recognized: the film won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Festival this year. It is the opening night film of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center--its US premiere.

François Bégaudeau, who plays the teacher, François Martin, wrote the book about his own classroom experiences that Cantet based this film on, and also collaborated on the script. Bégaudeau/Martin's pedagogic method is to stand his ground in the frequent verbal battles that happen in class. He's fast, supple, sometimes ironic. He is not perfect; his tendency to challenge and engage, while it keeps things lively, can also lead to confrontation and negativity. At one point he uses a slanderous word (pétasse, translated in the subtitles as "skank") for two of the girls who have been unruly as class representatives at a meeting with teachers, and a confrontation that follows with the undisciplined Soulaymane (Franck Keita) leads to the latter's expulsion and embarrassment for Martin when his language becomes known to his colleagues. On the other hand, despite constant challenges, dialogue happens, even about such arcane matters as French subjunctives.

The unique value of this film is that much, though not all, of it takes place directly in the classroom and involves real instruction and learning. So many films about schools don't have that, and the efforts to convey believable classroom moments in narrative features, even good ones, are often feeble. Here there are all kinds of classroom discussions--about whether the kids want to reveal themselves in "self-portraits," whether Martin is gay, rival football teams, national loyalty, The Diary of Anne Frank, even Plato's Republic, which a rude outspoken girl, Esmeralda (Esmeralda Ouertani), reveals she has read her sister's school copy of.

In a contemporary French context, one thinks of Abdel Kechiche's (also prize-winning) Games of Law and Chance (L'Esquive), which has kids from a similar French banlieu neighborhood: it also focuses on how the emigrant kids encounter classic French linguistic culture as the school project is to put on A 18th-century play. In Kechiche's film there is more variety: we get intimate looks at the home lives of various characters, their interactions out of class, and the principals' love conflicts. Cantet focuses only on the class and more briefly on gatherings with other faculty and in the school yard, never showing the kids at home or by themselves or indeed ever straying outside the school. On the other hand, Cantet captures the real classroom dynamic. Of course, this story is specialized too: it only shows French class, but the students are also taught by half a dozen other teachers whose work we do not see. Ultimately this is perhaps more about the teacher than the students, important though they are.

Interesting contrasts come through the multiple identities represented: African, Caribbean, Moroccan, Turkish, Chinese--and unspecified whites, who may be a slight majority among the class' two dozen students, but aren't often heard from (it's the troublemakers who emerge most prominently). The Chinese boy, Wei, is the best student, even though he is deferential about his abilities and shy about his speaking abilities. There are inklings of the fragility of French residency for new arrivals. News comes later in the year that government agents have seized Wei's mother because she was illegally in the country. At a faculty gathering a woman teacher who's just announced she is pregnant touchingly proposes a toast and makes two wishes: that Wei will be okay and that her child will be as smart as he is. Rumor has it that if Soulaymane (Franck Keita) fails in school his father will send him back to the "bled," the old country, which is Mali.

The disciplinary actions that lead to Soulayman's expulsion bring bad vibes to François's classroom. But as the film jumps forward to the end of the year, good feelings seem to have returned and the teacher gives out copies to the students of a booklet he's had made of all their "self-portraits" with photographic illustrations, which is well received. A shocker comes though when at the very end, after students have talked about what they've learned in school that year, one girl comes up to François privately and tells him that in all her classes she has learned nothing, and understood nothing. François' adeptness almost fails him when faced with this confession. Needless to say, this is no feel-good To Sir With Love movie. But what's positive about it is the vibrancy of the social dynamic and the fact that communication really does happen, with challenge and response ceaselessly on both sides. It's fascinating how the kids catch up the teacher and how he (for the most part) successfully parries their thrusts and perhaps even convinces them, to some degree, of the value of standard French in a mulitcultural France.

Cantet has used improvisation with non-actors before, notably in Human Resources, which shows a factory labor struggle that divides a family. The notable thing here is how authentic and seamless the classroom action appears. Students constructed personalities close to but different from their own. Events are telescoped, as in François Bégaudeau's book. Up to 7 or 8 takes were used to hone a segment, but according to Cantet, the young actors got back into the spirit of things so successfully that they could be intercut seamlessly. The result is maybe the liveliest and most naturalist reinvention on film of a contemporary public school classroom, in all its volatility and variety. And since blends of documentary and narrative often represent the cutting edge today, Cantet's achievement seems a very up-to-date one.

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76 out of 86 people found the following review useful:

A sample of real life

10/10
Author: Max_cinefilo89 from Italy
27 December 2008

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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59 out of 65 people found the following review useful:

A beguiling, stimulating feature film on education resembling a documentary

8/10
Author: Jugu Abraham (jugu_abraham@yahoo.co.uk) from Trivandrum, Kerala, India
26 January 2009

It is not often that you come across a movie that has as its lead actor, the very writer of the novel on which the film is based. Laurent Cantet's intriguing film "The Class" has in its lead role of the class teacher, the novelist and co-screenplay-writer Francois Begaudeau. That's only the first surprise the film pulls on the viewer.

If you went to into the film theater without knowing much about the film you are likely to think you are watching a documentary. That's the second surprise—it is not a documentary.

The film is apparently a semi-autobiographical story of the novelist and lead actor Begaudeau. Begaudeau himself was primarily a school teacher before he morphed his own life into a novelist, journalist, and an actor. But wait a moment. Even director Cantet's parents were teachers. Therefore, it is not surprising that the intimate knowledge of the teaching and the film-making processes get married seamlessly within the film and this contributed substantially to the film being honored as the first French film to win the Golden Palm at Cannes in 21 years!

Cantet allows the viewer to study the process of educating a fresh class of bubbly and street-smart adolescent kids in a Paris suburban school. Classroom education today in many parts of the world has evolved from the dictatorial British format where the learned teacher lectures and the student imbibes what he sees and hears. Today, teaching in progressive schools is more democratic, where the teacher allows student participation, where the student is encouraged to talk and become an integral part of the education process, contributing knowingly or unknowingly and "democratically" to the education of other students in the class just as much as the teacher. It is not without intent that one of the bright Internet-savvy kids in the film brings up the subject of Plato's "Republic" into discussion, but then the intelligent viewer is forced to recall that teaching for Aristotle's own students centuries ago was democratic and peripatetic. Begaudeau the teacher is flummoxed and that's precisely what Cantet the director of the film stresses to the viewer—the very quality and process of imparting knowledge today is dissected. Plato wanted a philosopher king to provide for the common good. He also believed democracy would just lead to mob rule, which is basically an oligarchy. Cantet appears to ask the viewer if the teacher is the Platonic philosopher king. Aristotle studied under Plato and disagreed with Plato on almost fundamentally everything. Cantet's film introduces parallels of bright adolescent kids being educated in the classroom as Aristotle would have been in Plato's class. Begaudeau teaches his students often like Plato would while adopting the peripatetic approach of Aristotle's own teaching style though confined within the four walls of the class.

The film is demanding of the viewer. The film is definitely not everyone's cup of tea.

To a casual film goer, the movie would resemble a live recording of a high-school class of boys and girls with a teacher probing the minds of his students, made up of different backgrounds, races, religions and representing various continents. There are tense moments, hilarious repartees, behind the scene meetings of teachers evaluating students, parent teacher meetings and even stocktaking of a "year gone by" in the school. The film's content can disappoint some viewers looking for conventional action, sex or heavy intrigue.

Cantet's approach to cinema is far removed from the typical Hollywood film. Yet Cantet and the screenplay writing team that included Begaudeau urge the viewer to zoom-out his/her mind from the microscopic events taking place within the confines of the four walls of class--the ethnic tensions, the psychological warfare and the social criticism--as they are equally likely to take place in the wider world outside the class, beyond the school, even beyond France. That is the beguiling aspect of Cantet's film.

The innovation apart, what is extraordinary in this film? One, the film clearly indicates the classroom has evolved from the classroom of "To Sir, with Love," or "Dead Poet's Society." Today, teaching adolescents is no longer a simple task. Students are well-aware of current social and political issues, thanks to the Internet and related technology. Teachers need to be aware of several bits of information and trivia to be on top of their class. Second, "The Class" progresses to reveal manipulative student behavior towards their teachers that British cinema revealed decades earlier to us. British films, such as "Absolution" (1978, with Richard Burton) and "Term of Trial" (1962, with Laurence Olivier) are vivid examples. Unlike the two entertaining British movies, all the action in Cantet's "The Class" is restricted to two school rooms—-the actual classroom and another room where teachers interact among themselves or with parents. Third, the film grapples with the question of the broader issues of equality within a classroom, a school and elsewhere in society. Fourth, the film is about current issues of integration of different cultures that perhaps confront Europe, Canada, and Australia more than it does in the USA. Africans and Asians are now citizens of France but do they get understood by the majority? A student Suleyman says in the film: "I have nothing to say about me because no one knows me but me."

How many teachers allow for two-way communication in a class? The film presents a growing challenge for educators of today. Can we go back to the days of Aristotle or do we prefer to learn under the teacher who "dictates"? Are we providing the turf for democracy or for dictatorships to emerge in society from the lowly classroom? This is a sensitive film meant for film-goers expecting more than frothy entertainment. The two final shots, somewhat similar, of the film graphically (and silently) capture the entire case of the film that preceded those shots. That was truly remarkable.

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33 out of 38 people found the following review useful:

a great naturalistic film and a gem of inside-the-classroom drama

10/10
Author: MisterWhiplash from United States
21 March 2009

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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32 out of 40 people found the following review useful:

mesmerizing

10/10
Author: alexmccourt from United Kingdom
13 March 2009

Best movie I've seen since No Country For Old Men. And you won't hear these two titles mentioned together too often.

The greatest accomplishment was in re-creating, in naturalistic documentary style, well....a classroom. And although it's almost half a century since I participated in such an environment, it seems not an awful lot has changed (well, apart from the total disrespect shown by many of the children towards their mentor). They were all there, mouthy, loud, quiet, bright, stupid. And real, or so it appeared.

Dead Poets Society it ain't. Remarkably free from schmaltz, the film traces a reasonably undramatic class year, with its group dynamics, teacher cock ups, mutinies - pupils that is - with a very small sprinkling of what is being taught academically. The result should have been fairly prosaic and I suppose it was, but I was transfixed by the skill of the players the art of the director and the total ordinariness of the people being so brilliantly portrayed. A terrific achievement by all.

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27 out of 36 people found the following review useful:

Self-portrait of us all

7/10
Author: David Ferguson (fergusontx@gmail.com) from Dallas, Texas
21 February 2009

Greetings again from the darkness. Not a film in the traditional sense and not a documentary by true definition, it mixes the two into an absorbing, addictive 128 minutes.

Over the years, I have often questioned the educational system and why both teachers and students are so frustrated. Here we get an inside look at both sides and it still leaves me wondering "why?". Why do otherwise intelligent people commit to becoming teachers? Why do we insist on teaching formats that are miserable for both teacher and student? Why do so many parents blame the school and so few take an active, supportive role? This is the story of Francois Begaudeau, who also wrote the book upon which director Laurent Cantet's film is based.

Begaudeau is a junior high teacher in a working class, multi-ethnic Paris school where the teachers have resigned themselves to the fact that most of the students just don't care to learn. We get an incredible amount of classroom time showing how the melting pot of cultures has so much to offer, yet seems impossible to tap into.

Also fascinating are the teacher meetings and discussions that occur away from the students. We see no joy in these teachers and most seem just beaten down. The film offers no solutions, it strictly acts as a peek inside the institution.

While we are left to our own accord to pick sides or dream of alternatives, I continue to ask the same "why" questions over and over.

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18 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

Slice of Life in a French Classroom

6/10
Author: 3xHCCH from Quezon City, Philippines
18 April 2009

I watched another French film in a row (after ""Il y a Longtemps que Je T'aime"). "Entre Le Murs" (known in English as "the Class") is the French bet for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and also the first French film to win the Palm D'Or of the Cannes Film Festival in 20 years. It is simply begging to be seen, so I did, despite knowing nothing about its subject matter.

"The Class" turns out to be a documentary-like movie about the tense interaction between teacher and students in a French multiracial high school. In particular, the film follows French grammar teacher Francois Marin who would like to think of himself as a progressive teacher who employs the interactive and self-discovery classroom technique, rather than by traditional lecture style.

However, most of his students are disturbingly belligerent, frank and disrespectful. The main conflict is with a particularly insolent Mali boy named Souleymane who has violent outbursts in class. But there are other students too from Tunisia, Morocco, China, the Caribbean, etc.. all of whom with their own personality and issues which the teacher has to deal with.

Everything in this film is very realistic indeed. It becomes even more personal after knowing that the lead actor who played Mr. Marin is Francois Begaudeau, who actually wrote the semi-autobiographical book about his experiences as a teacher, as well as adapted his own book for this film's screenplay. This is another instance when I am sure a lot of the richness of the language interplay will be lost in the subtitled translations.

A lot of people will find this film boring because of the two hour length, the single setting within the school, and no additional personal side stories about the teachers and students. But with my recent foray into the theory of Education in Graduate School, this film is quite an eye-opener about how different the school situation is these days. Definitely, this film has no Hollywood story arc and uplifting ending. It just tells the situation as it is. And that is precisely where its strength is.

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14 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Between The Walls – Quasi Documentary Draws You In.

Author: isabelle1955
15 March 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's my time of year to take in the best foreign language movies of the last twelve months and Entre Les Murs (renamed, rather than translated, as The Class) is one of the best.

The movie is based on François Bégaudeau's memoir of a year teaching in a Parisian secondary school. The school is in an immigrant area and the students are a mixed bunch of both genders spanning most of the globe's ethnicities and all of the globe's enthusiasms for learning, ie some want to and some don't. Monsieur Bégaudeau's task – as teacher Mr Marin -is to try and translate French classical language education into something that seems relevant to 21st century disaffected youth. It's an interesting movie, fictional yet based on facts, mostly improvised by the young cast, and shot like a fly-on-the-wall documentary using mobile high-definition cameras, yet staged. How to present Voltaire and The Enlightenment to street-wise fourteen year olds whose parents are threatened with expulsion from the country or whose personal failure may result in repatriation by the parents who are supposed to be on their side?

How to talk to parents whose cultural and language divide is an abyss between them and the teacher, and how to do it all in a spirit of equality, respect and intellectual rigour? It must ring a bell with teachers the world over – they signed up to teach the subject they love and find themselves working instead as psychologists/counselors/social workers/disciplinarians and quasi probation officers to just try and keep everyone under control. It's not that the students are wicked or evil, just undisciplined and rude and – one suspects – generally abused by a careless world in which kids are two a penny amongst 6 billion plus people. The film follows a long and respected tradition of movies about the gifted teacher bringing out the best in a mixed bag of kids, but is more real, immediate and less schmaltzy than most of the genre.

I'm not a teacher - couldn't do it if you paid me a million $$$$ per year - so I'm not about to indulge in smart alec remarks about Mr Marin's methods, but I did feel that his attempts to be fair with his students and to treat them as equals might have been a bit misplaced and that some heavy handedness and distance might have been better if he actually wanted to implant facts. Funnily enough I am writing this review after reading an article online about how 'self esteem' education in the UK is leading to a generation of narcissistic children who are becoming unteachable and whose parents refuse to accept that their children are anything less than perfect.

Narcissism doesn't seem to be the problem for most of Mr Marin's class. They possess more a brittle and occasionally touching defensiveness and an inability to grasp why a classical education has any relevance to their lives. And who can blame them? But I came away from this movie with a feeling which I have often felt before - here where I live in the USA and have put two children through the public education system - that we are producing whole generations of over-confident under-achievers.

The young cast of The Class are fabulous. Apparently all pulled from similar circumstances to those they portray, the script was largely 'workshopped' prior to shooting. The knowledge that there are youngsters out there who can be taken from real life to achieve performances of this caliber cheers me up immensely and makes me think there is hope for the world. Gripping movie…………Go see.

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21 out of 29 people found the following review useful:

Explores the frustrations felt by both teacher and student

9/10
Author: Howard Schumann from Vancouver, B.C.
15 February 2009

Veteran educator Parker Palmer said "Teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart, And the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be." A junior high school French teacher discovers this the hard way in Laurent Cantet's The Class, a work based on the autobiographical novel "Entre Le Murs" ("Between the Walls") by teacher François Bégaudeau, who plays the teacher Francois Marin in the film. Set in a tough Parisian neighborhood, The Class, winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes and nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, explores the frustrations felt by both teacher and student when the standard classical curriculum appears to be irrelevant to children from working-class immigrant families.

Though Francois tries to employ innovative techniques such as having the children, ages 14 and 15, write a self-portrait, most of his time is spent in discipline. Sandra (Esmeralda Ouertani) is a sharp-wit who is constantly pushing against authority; Khoumba (Rachel Regulier) is a moody black girl who has suddenly decided she will not real aloud in class; Wei (Wei Huang), is the son of illegal Chinese immigrants whose mother has been singled out by the authorities for possible deportation; Carl (Carl Nanor) joins the class in the middle of the school year after having been expelled from another school; and Souleymane (Franck Keita), an African student from Mali is a consistent disrupter.

Practically the entire film is shot inside the classroom and there are no detours into the teacher's (or the students) personal life or extracurricular activities. As Francois attempts to teach the difference between the imperfect and the subjunctive and instill a love of literature, a power struggle unfolds between teacher and student. The students are bright but rebellious and their give and take in the classroom belies the fact that they know they are up against a system that has not been set up in their favor.

Souleymane brings the class to a halt when he asks the teacher about the rumor that he likes men which the teacher denies but learning is difficult in a situation where the students show little respect. Francois also makes mistakes, calling two girls "skanks" because they fooled around in their role as class reps during the teachers' student evaluation meeting, an incident which leads to a major disruption in the class led by the offended Souleymane. Accompanied by his mother who speaks little French, Souleymane becomes the central focus of the film when it is debated whether or not he should be expelled from the school.

Another disturbing incident occurs in the teachers lounge when one of the teachers expresses his bitterness and despair about trying to teach students he refers to as "animals". Cantet spent many months attending Begaudeau's class and cast real students, recruited from a neighboring junior high, in the role of their counterparts. The Class is a brave film in which there are no heroes or villains and no "Mr. Holland's Opus" to send the viewer off feeling uplifted. While the acting has some rough patches, the dialog, which is largely non-scripted, always feels authentic. The only lesson to be learned is that there are no easy solutions and Cantet does not offer any other than to suggest that inspiration, like happiness, may lie only in moments.

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13 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Not just a movie, also an experience

Author: Harry T. Yung (harry_tk_yung@yahoo.com) from Hong Kong
11 December 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Entering the cinema for this long awaited Cannes Palme D'Or winner, I couldn't help but see in my mind scenes from "Goodbye Mr Chips" (two versions), "To sir with love" and "Dead poet society", and wonder how "The class" will be like. After 128 minutes the passage of which I wasn't even conscious, being so absorbed in the film, I emerged with a one word answer: different. A neutral word, neither better or worse, just different.

"The Class" is very much like a documentary, can even be seen as one, being based on a novel that is in essence an autobiography of French (referring to both his nationality and the subject he teaches) junior high school (13-, 14-year olds) teacher Francois Begaudeau. What the audience is intimated to is one academic year in his life at a school in a working class neighbourhood in suburban Paris. While it does not seem to be as rough as Harlem, it is more ethnically diversified – Caucasian, African, Asian, Arab and more. To most of these students who have no problem conversing in daily colloquial French, the elegant French grammar he teaches is as alien as something from outer space.

The first thing I noticed about this film is the very long scenes in the class room, to such an extent that you begin feel that you become part of the class. One might have thought that one would get bored, but quite on the contrary, you are so absorbed in it that you hardly notice the passage of time. There are about half-dozen students that you get to know very soon, plus half-dozen more you begin to recognize. It soon becomes fascinating, as you, just like Francois, are trying to understand each of these very different young men and women. They can be variously cheeky, introvert, rude, subtle, naïve, pitiable, funny….. It is mesmerizing to see how Francois handles each different challenge, not without his own emotions, but always rational, objective, and lovably stubborn.

While the teacher-student interaction is the soul of this film, it offers more – interaction among teachers (particularly in a disciplinary meeting considering an expulsion), as well as between teacher and parent. There are delinquent students, opinionated teachers, equally opinionated parents, but there are no real villains in the dramatic sense. Characters are presented to the audience from real life, with all their shortcomings and good qualities. To be able to bring real life to the screen in such an engaging way makes its Palme D'or award well deserved.

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