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The Class won the Cannes International Film Festival's Palme d'Or back
in 2008, and it's not hard to see why. Although a film that's set
against the backdrop of a school and featuring classroom dynamics
between the teacher and his students, it's hardly anything close to the
glossy Hollywood counterparts that we've also grown so familiar with,
following formula such as having an inspiration teacher lead a
downtrodden class, instilling confidence to go for their dreams, and
everyone graduating with flying colours with the rogue of the class
having turned over a new leaf, and so on. Instead, this class poses a
lot of questions with no answers on the horizon, a snapshot of a full
school year, and of the issues that society as a whole is currently
It's documentary-like in treatment, having the camera follow proceedings very closely, starting with the beginning of the year where teachers meet up to welcome the rookie instructors, exchange notes on problematic students, and the likes, before we follow Francois Marin (Francois Begaudeau, a real life teacher whose book is what this film is based upon), a French language teacher, and one of his classes, which of course consisted of a myriad of personalities and race as well, becoming a micro-chasm of current society we live in. In some ways it's a mirror, with issues discussed intensely amplified, especially when we extrapolate the diverse groups that the students represent, from new immigrants, to those who have been assimilated into society, but yet still feeling the kind of identity crisis, which can be thought of as the usual teenage angst that on a bigger picture, represent a much larger social issue out there to be addressed with no clear and easy solutions.
There are numerous episodes that we maneuver through, some pleasant, others not so. If anything, it provides that insight to the educational system of another country, which may raise some eyebrows when compared to ours, such as having all your teachers sit around to decide your fate on the report card through a comprehensive, candid discussion, and having 2 of the student class reps sit in to listen in on the proceedings, and then providing a back channel feedback to the student. I suppose this is to prevent abuse of the system, since condemnation by one teacher could possibly be balanced with another's so that victimization is kept in check, with witnesses coming not only from the teaching fraternity, but from the students as well.
And since we know teachers can err, and tempers flare if there's a consistent disciplinary problem that they are at their wits end at dealing with, there's an episode here which really struck me, and more so since it's more of a human nature issue. Sometimes we do or say the things we're sorry about, and because of pride and fear of the repercussions, there's this innate reaction to immediately cover up one's tracks, despite having witnesses around. Words get twisted as we struggle through debunking everyone and to insist that we're misunderstood, and to deny everything vehemently. It's easy to shoot one's mouth off during the heat of the moment, and it's another when reported as is and then trying to spin doctor it. Politicians know and play this kind of game best.
The other significant subplot in the film will be that of the class troublemaker Souleymane (I keep hearing Saruman, one of the villains from JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings). A loner who basks himself in loud clothes and a louder mouth, his is the typical story of the guy who sits at the back of the class, ever eager to disrupt lessons, and having a tough guy demeanour to signal others not to mess with him.
As a film, I'd admit this can get quite dry in the beginning, especially when discussions get launched and we become mere spectators to debates which can drag, some topics and barbs being interesting to follow, while others just turn you off, especially when it becomes nothing more than mudslinging. But The Class builds on momentum, going by the adage to save the best for last, yet finishing off as a matter of fact, that the events that transpired, from the start of the school term, signature school events like grading, meet the parents session etc right through to the close of the semester, are nothing but of a cyclic nature, with issues still present that go unaddressed by the time the film ends. That said, The Class is still a fascinating gaze into the French education system, as delivered by real life teachers and students through the carefully crafted roles that they play and represent.
Laurent Cantet's 'Entre Les Murs' takes a very in-depth look into a French middleschool throughout one academic year. The film starts off with the teachers introducing themselves to one another and then we are shifted to the classroom. 'Entre Les Murs' is shot like a documentary and it has a documentary like feel (there's not even any background music) except that it really involves the viewer. These teachers really care about the students and have their best interest at heart even though they're quite a nuisance. The classroom scenes look very authentic. The interactions between the teacher and his multi-ethnic students appear eerily real. Even though it feels a little repetitive in the beginning the conflicts between the teacher and his students by the end of the year we see that the students have gained something but this is also contradicted by one girl who approaches Marin after class on the last day. Several interesting issues like immigration are also brought forth. A touching part of the film involves a Chinese student Wei who is very intelligent and shy and even though he struggles with the language he manages to stay ahead of most of his classmates (except in French) and when his mother is under threat of being deported, the teachers come together to figure out a solution. The movie itself is based on François Bégaudeau's book and screenplay. Bégaudeau also plays the lead part François Marin and clearly he's put a lot of heart into the movie. The overall acting is pretty good. This is in the end Cantet and Bégaudeau's achievement and it really gives the feel of a middleschool full of teenage students of different ethnicities. It reminded me of my days in school.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Entres Les Murs, or in English, The Class is a drama set in a middle school in Paris focusing around a teacher named Francois Marin (Francois Begaudeau), and his teachers. Right from the opening credits to the closing credits, the film sucked me in all the way. The film is very powerful and gripping in its storytelling about how Francois is a dedicated teacher getting a little sick of dealing with it all. The most gripping part of the film is Francois's relationship with an extremely trouble making student named Souleymane (Franck Keïta). That plot involves the angry side of Francois not really seen in the movie when Souleymane isn't there. The Class does a good job of not falling under its own weight. It knows how to balance the mad and the happy, the believable, and the unbelievable, and the normal, and the weird. It's a very well made movie based on Begaudeau's autobiographical novel. The film never leaves you hanging without any grip. There's also other gripping stories such as two girl who are school representatives with whom Francois is worried about, and a student's mom getting arrested for being an illegal immigrant, and his dad not yet being arrested even though he as well is an illegal immigrant. The Class is not only a terrifically entertaining, and frightening masterpiece, but it's also a gripping one, too.
Laurent Cantet's account of the conscious mind's contradictions,
stimulations, urbanities and cunning expression might have been set in
any classroom in the Western world, and I trust most teachers would
appreciate it. It is about the leadership contest between a teacher who
wants to do good and students who clash about what "good" is. The film
is so candid that neither side is seen as righteous, and both seem
cornered by ineffectuality.
In a lower-income, melting-pot neighborhood in Paris, Francois, the teacher, begins a school year with a trusting preconception and an eagerness to be liked by his students. They are a multiethnic group of 15- and 16-year-olds, hardly any of them inclined by the educational system to be assuring possibilities for Francois' wishes. None of them necessarily strike one as being dumb, and actually perception may be one of their problems: They can see without any doubt that the meaning of the class is to make them exemplary members of the community in a society that has little use for them.
The movie is shivering with vitality, initiative, anxieties, grievances and the quick laughter of a classroom eager for relaxation. It doggedly deflects rigidly inflexible delineating, in a way like freeing itself from the very lockstep educational curriculum which makes the classroom too subjective to understand, and jumps into the middle of the scuffle, opening the objective doors for us to become accustomed to the students, evoking more than it tells, allowing us to relate to sundry perspectives. It is unusually persuasive.
Director Laurent Cantet starts with a best-selling autobiographical novel by a teacher, Francois Begaudeau. He cast Begaudeau as the teacher. He worked for a year with a group of students, extemporizing and shooting scenes. So persuasive is the film that it seems documentary, but all of the students, I learn, are playing roles and not themselves. There is a bitter Arab girl, who feels she is being underestimated by the teacher. A fiery African boy, very bright, but given to outrage. An Asian boy, also a sharp mind, who has learned from his family's culture, maybe to keep a low profile and not exhibit himself. Others who are allies, mates, accomplices.
Mounding vexation in the classroom has to do with the repetitive teaching of French. You learn a language by listening and speaking. You learn how to write by reading. It's not a state of being lost in thought. I don't imagine these kids think the people who first used the imperfect tense felt the compulsion to label it. The film stays for the most part within the classroom. A school year commences with the teacher as kingfish. Whether or not it concludes the same way is the trial and error of a good teacher. Do you remain on top through no-nonsense limitations? With humor? By becoming the students' friend? By study of the students' minds? Will they suspect your angle? What will they think of it? You're completely outnumbered.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
All eyes are on Mr.Marin(Francois Begaudeau), multifarious sets of
eyes: Arab eyes, African eyes, Asian eyes, but French eyes all. This is
not France in 1959; this is not Francois Truffaut's "Quatre cents coup,
Les". Mr.Marin teaches a new wave of French children who probably never
encountered a "Bill" in Syria, Mali, and China. When the middle school
teacher uses the name "Bill" in an example sentence for a class
exercise, two sets of eyes "bug" out. "If I start using names to suit
all your origins, it will never end," Mr. Marin responds, but
Khoumbra(Rachel Regulier) and Esmerelda(Esmeralda Ouertani) won't back
down; they suggest more apposite monikers such as "Aissata" and "Fatou"
in place of the educator's patented arsenal of Anglo/Saxon names. Mr.
Marin's comeback to the girls' protest suggests that their rebellion is
a first-time occurrence, perhaps a long-simmering one, which the
teacher quells without incident, for the time being. "Bill" is out of
context, this hypothetical "Bill" doesn't exist in "Entre les murs"; he
goes to private school. Context is also a problem in Spike Lee's "Do
the Right Thing" when Buggin' Out(Giancarlo Esposito) stares at the
pizza owner's "Wall of Fame" and asks, "Hey, Sal, how come they ain't
no brothas on the wall?" Even though Sal(Danny Aiello) caters to a
black clientele, he decorates his wall exclusively with Italian
entertainers. It's Sal's pizza joint; the proprietor has the right to
do as he pleases in his own dominion, but Buggin' Out's argument is
that black people pay his bills, so black people shouldn't be made
invisible by the apartheid on the pizzeria wall. Likewise, it's Mr.
Marin's classroom; the teacher has an innate bias towards names popular
among his own persuasion, so "Bill" it is, and not "Aissata" and
"Fatou". But this is a public school with disenfranchised students who
pay Mr. Marin's salary, so they have a right to ask their instructor to
integrate his pool of names with third-world monikers. "Bill" needs to
make room for "Aissata" and "Fatou". For the students, learning French
is learning the colonizer's language, and in using the colonizer's
names, he pushes his Arab, African, and Asian students further along
the margins of societal France. This is France in 2009. Meet
Unique from other classroom-oriented dramas, "Entre les murs" withholds the world-at-large by centering the action in around the campus. A whole different animal from John N. Smith's "Dangerous Minds" and Ramon Menendez's "Stand and Deliver"("How do I reach these 'kee-ds'?"), "Entre les murs" doesn't present Mr. Marin as an inspirational type who changes the lives of his pupils by making them stand on their desks(Peter Weir's "Dead Poets Society"), or forces hippie music on their contemporary ears(the presence of Bob Dylan in "Dangerous Minds"). If the French instructor was a savior, Souleymane, the troubled Muslim kid, would be troubled no more under the tutelage of Mr. Marin. As it turns out, Souleymane is expelled for repeatedly being cited as a disruptive classroom presence by a consensus of Mr. Marin's peers. Souleymane doesn't bend to his teacher's will and assimilates with the "Bill" that exists in Mr. Marin's mind. Souleymane's predilection for anti-conformity is exacerbated when Esmeralda and another girl takes Mr. Marin's assessment of the Mali native as being "limited" from it's original context during a school council meeting among the faculty and student representatives. Out of exasperation, Mr. Marin calls both girls "s****s", which means to him that they're talkative, and not the more popular denotation of sexual promiscuity. During that meeting, Mr. Marin had been Souleymane's lone champion(even though the Malinese student questions his teacher's sexuality), so when the volatile pupil plays the victimization game with his sole ally in a heated classroom exchange, out of lost patience, perhaps the French teacher calls the two girls "s****s", so he doesn't call Souleymane something far worse(perhaps out of residual anger for having his sexual orientation questioned). Khoumbra, who is also African in origin, gets her lips bloodied from Souleymane's backpack when the boy storms out of class. In a sense, the girl is being punished by her peer for being an accommodating student, for assimilating, after an initial bout of insolent behavior that rivaled Souleymane's. When Mr. Marin calls those two girls "s****s", a dialogic comes into play, because "s****" has a third meaning, and this is the meaning that separatists and other radical conservative groups in France would take from Mr. Marin's assessment of the two girls, and the class in general.
Mr. Marin isn't a racist, but the viewer makes his/her own meaning of the filmic material, and may arrive at a conclusion that the filmmaker had never intended.
Dear wonderful IMDb folk,
I was really surprised by not liking this movie. I thought François Bégaudeau seemed incredibly dispassionate about teaching and his obsession with his own voice and deaf ear to all of his students infuriated me! My students in Philly would mutiny the kind of authoritarian rule he staged. I think the students he had were pretty fabulous--not the insolent jerks the teachers thought they were, and it upset me to watch him kill the potential they had to enjoy and learn from school. He interrupted everything they said either with an insult or to complete their thought for them so that they couldn't claim credit. It was like he was out to invalidate them as human beings.
As a film, I also though The Class fell short. The tension (socioeconomic class dynamic, adult/child dynamic, classroom dynamic, race and immigration) was all there, but it was constant and unchanging. The climax scene was just an echo of all the other scenes in which the teachers talked and students were not listened to. The actual language barrier during the climax intensified how deaf the teachers were to student and community needs. The characters were realistic, though static and flat, and the acting was decent--probably because a number of the actors weren't trained actors, but were in fact students and teachers AND because the camera stayed back--in general the cinematography was fantastic--the lens didn't intrude too much on the actors and so they were left to just be, to naturally be, which is something you don't much see in mainstream cinema. And one last thing in reference to character: the class personalities were right on.
The end, I will say, was awesome. I won't spoil, but I must say it was a perfectly subtle and perceptive comment on Bégaudeau's teaching abilities and on what happened in that classroom. It also showed how fragmented and confusing education is in school, particularly for kids who come from a home that honors a culture very different from the culture of school.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A film for which I had a lot of enthusiasm up front, but, as it went on (and on), my enthusiasm began to fade. I still liked it a lot by the end, though I felt that it really hadn't accomplished all that much, but even after the film ended problems started to arise in my mind. The final verdict: I appreciate it more than I like it, and I have a ton of misgivings. The film is about a Parisian inner city teacher (François Bégaudeau, whose own experiences the film is based on) who teaches French to a class of teenagers, most of whom are immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, as well as from China, the Caribbean and probably some from France, too. The interest of the film comes from the enormous mixture of races and cultures, all vying to be heard and understood. Though mostly heard. The students are all pretty much playing themselves, too (I don't know if these were actually Bégaudeau's students or not, but they are obviously authentic). There is a lot to admire here, not the least of which is the documentary realism of the project. These are all interesting people - even if most of the students are obnoxious - and I really didn't mind spending the time with them. I've worked as a high school teacher before, and, despite the Dangerous Minds set-up, this comes off as completely real. My problems with the film are many. I know Bégaudeau and Cantet must have wanted to simplify things as much as possible, but the class presented must just be one of several that the teacher is teaching this year. He claims in one of the first sequences that they only have an hour a day. Are all of his classes like this? This doesn't give a very accurate picture of what it's like to be a high school teacher just because this has to be only, what, one sixth of his day at most? What makes this class special? But, yeah, I guess they had to focus it a lot. But then, I would say, they don't focus it enough. The timespan of the film is the whole school year. Yet, with its you-are-there presentation (i.e., sequences last 20 minutes at a time), we probably only see about four or five days out of this entire year. The film obviously isn't very interested in plot, yet it does eventually try to shoehorn one in when one of Bégaudeau's students, Souleymane (interestingly only one of two students who aren't played by a person with the same name as their character, the other being Khoumba), gets into a lot of trouble and is up for expulsion review. By the end of the film, I felt like there really wasn't all that much to the film. Most of it is just the teens and their teach talking. So shouldn't that be good enough? Not really. One of my biggest problems with the film is that, honestly, Bégaudeau comes off as just an awful teacher. Maybe that's true in real life. If he made this film and went on to win tons of awards for it, it's unlikely that he'll ever become a better one. Bégaudeau is completely uncontrolling of his classroom. He accuses the students of wasting their time, yet he has no problem with engaging with his students whenever they start spouting off. It's simply not true that a teacher of teenagers should treat his students as equals. One might want to pretend to sometimes, but the fact is you're there to teach them. Instead, you're allowing them to waste the class's time. Also, with his desire to be the students' buddies, he brings himself down to their level, giving up his authority. It's not surprising at all that he ended up calling some of his students names, insulting them as he has allowed them countless times not only to insult each other but to insult him. There is no way any of his students will learn in that environment. When he actually tries to assert his authority, it's understandable why he comes across as a joke to his students. By the end of the year, he's frustrated and so are his students. It's not just because teaching is exhausting, it's because he's no good at it. And my guess is that the whole school is partly to blame - just observe the way that every teacher in the building just sat and ignored the two "skanks" during the teacher's meeting. Watching The Class made me assume that maybe France had just given up on education. I know, the film is about this guy's experience, and not, like Dangerous Minds, about a man who inspired students to succeed. But I don't think the film, or Bégaudeau, is aware just how awful he is.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The reported eight-month acting/improv period that Director Laurent
Cantet put his young cast through paid off very nicely. Following this
period his summer shooting schedule utilized some skillful
characterizations by these real-life students.
The book and screenplay by Francois Begaudeau smoothly merged with M. Cantet's style, to produce a realistic portrait of French inner city youth caught in a bleak educational system.
"Entre les murs" paints a realistic portrait of inside-classroom behavior, and provides much room for pondering and discussion. It's not a nice picture being depicted here nor is it necessarily typical; still, an authentic-feel emerges with great candor. The photographic style uses many closeups and medium shots bringing the viewer into the action. At this range one can see the impressive level of acting skill Cantet was able to garner.
The film doesn't take any particular view in terms of who's right or wrong; rather it presents the "facts," allowing viewers to make their own decision. One thing no one challenges is the basic curriculum itself or the way it's presented. It's obvious the students' lack interest in their subjects and indeed one student's statement to this effect at the term's end is most revealing.
The faculty and staff all seem to take the subjects offered and their method of presentation for granted, with no one suggesting an alternative model. This seems a standard design of most academic institutions: present traditional material in a traditional way. If it doesn't connect with students, it's their own fault.
"Entre les murs" has no score and relies on actual sounds of the schoolroom and playground.
Mr. Marin (Francois Begaudeau) is in the teacher's lounge, attending a meeting with the other instructors at their middle school. It is the first day of school and a fellow teacher, looking at Marin's list, tells him which students are "good" and which are likely to give him a heap of trouble. Undeterred, Marin welcomes his new students, talkative Esmeralda, shy, intelligent Wey, and uncooperative Suleymann, among others. Located in a working class, urban neighborhood in Paris, Marin's school hardly boasts ideal students, having a student body that is a mixture of poorer French natives and immigrants. Yet, Marin sees potential in nearly everyone as he begins to teach the class French grammar, among other things. Even when students give him problems and talk back in class, Marin is adept at steering the conversation back to the pertinent topic and getting his lessons across. He tries to reach Suleymann constantly, giving him a chance, one day, to take photographs and "write captions" for them to improve his French language skills. It seems to work. But, unfortunately, it doesn't last. On a subsequent day, when everyone is out of sorts, Suleymann storms out of the class and swings his bag in the direction of another student, cutting her face. Will the school expel this African-French student or will he be given another chance? Here is a fine look at an urban school, set in a country other than the United States. France, too, has a good deal of immigrants, from their former colonies and elsewhere, resulting in a classroom diversity not dissimilar to USA schools. As such, tension sometimes rears its ugly head and, as in American classrooms, students are cheeky and not afraid to speak their minds, making it more difficult to maintain order. Therefore, teacher Marin is a fine example of how a great teacher can make all the difference, in spite of the odds. Yes, he occasionally makes a mistake but, in essence, he knows how to get the best from his pupils. Begaudeau is outstanding as the teacher while the middle school actors give such authentic and powerful performances, the film almost feels like a reality show. The setting is confined to the school, alas, so there are no glimpses of Paris the beautiful. Costumes, production values, script and direction are very fine indeed. If you are interested in the field of teaching, this movie would make an excellent introduction into the future joys and trials of a teacher's existence. It might even prompt some to realize that teaching is not for them. And, for those who love such films as Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers, here is another fine entry for the cinematic list of great classroom flicks.
Some excellent films have won the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes
Film Festival over the years: Apocalypse Now, Pulp Fiction, Gate of
Hell, MASH, Taxi Driver, and many others. Entre Les Murs (The Class)
doesn't seem worthy of such an honor. It is boring, amateurish, and
comes off as dull.
Entre Les Murs (2008) is a drama directed by Laurent Cantet and stars Francois Bégaudeu as a French teacher at an intercity school for troubled children in Paris. All the students have a distinct cultural background; including African and Chinese. Conflict arises between the teacher and students as the "plot" unfolds.
Monsieur Marin, (Francois Bégaudeu) a French teacher, tries to teach a multi-cultural group of juvenile delinquents. He constantly seems like he's on the verge of slapping every one of them. Some students in particular that give him a hard time are Esmeralda, a girl who acts incredibly disrespectful towards her superiors, and Soulymane, an African boy who gets in trouble and is on the brink of being sent back to Africa. The film details the 9 month school year from beginning to end. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Entre Les Murs is interesting in the fact that most of it feels very real, but that's only because it is. The film's star, Francois Bégaudeu, wrote a novel of the same name detailing his experience as a teacher at a school for young hoodlums. In this regard, his acting seems very natural and fitting for the part. I like some of the scenes between him and the students because it does feel like the way many students argue with their teachers. It was an interesting idea, but it was poorly executed.
Entre Les Murs had an interesting concept that just doesn't make good cinema. It really did not need to be a narrative film. They could have taken the same idea and made it a documentary or something. I have nothing against foreign films. I have seen other French films, along with some Italian and Japanese films.The French can make some great films, they practically invented modern filmmaking with Les Frères Lumières and the Georges Melies short films made over a century ago, but this time it feels like they are trying to simulate the average school day. Although some of the acting was decent and it probably had good intentions, at the end of the day, it's just a bland, uninspired mess. It looks like the film was shot with a cheap camcorder, it lacks any non-diegetic sound, and it's just not very good. I would recommend the film if you are an insomniac and your Ambien isn't working. I give it 3.5/10.
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