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The dynamics of a multi-ethnic Paris middle school class skillfully recreated
Chris Knipp15 September 2008
Warning: 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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A sample of real life
Max_cinefilo8927 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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A beguiling, stimulating feature film on education resembling a documentary
Jugu Abraham26 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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a great naturalistic film and a gem of inside-the-classroom drama
MisterWhiplash21 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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The Unspoken Undercurrent Dissolving the Foundations of Education Around the World!
KissEnglishPasto17 October 2013
............................................................from Pasto,Colombia...Via: L.A. CA., CALI, COLOMBIA and ORLANDO, FL

It's very rare, indeed, when I'm at a staggering loss for words. Words are my business…having owned and directed my own language schools for over 35 years. But when I sat down to write this, immediately after viewing "The Class", my unmitigated ire and unbridled outrage only produced that most dreaded of conditions, anathema to all reviewers: Writer's Block! Several hours later, my blood having assuaged itself from boiling to simmer, I find myself, once again, anxious to share my impressions of this undeniably unique French film with you.

"Class" refuses to be pigeon-holed. Perhaps a Documentary-Drama fusion, but not really a Docudrama, either. More akin to reality TV, only better! "Class" will certainly affect different people in strikingly different ways. How do middle-school teachers around the world maintain their grip on sanity and reality? I felt myself sliding down the slippery slope from just observing these French* kids flaunt their world-class insolence! But whatever your reaction to them, chances are "Class" will get to you like running your fingernails along a blackboard!

Did you notice the asterisk on French* kids? Surprisingly, this inner-city French classroom was a veritable rainbow coalition: Africans, Caribbean Franco-Africans, Arabs, Eastern Europeans, a couple Hispanics and Chinese. Oh yes, and even some Gauls, born and raised! My spoken French is decrepit, but my ear is still fairly well-tuned and a myriad of different accents were very easy to discern, a few of them rendered somewhat haltingly. Encountering harmony and a real-time teaching classroom dynamic under these conditions pose a daunting challenge, to say the least.

The problem resides in that 9th graders around the world are keenly aware of who REALLY is in control in the classroom.… They are! More often than not, their classroom comportment is an unabated and blatant non-stop provocation of whoever is teaching them. But God forbid should that teacher lapse into a single moment of normal human reaction to such constant torment! The unspoken undercurrent that is dissolving the foundations of education around the world is only too self-evident in this "Class". Just a few accusatory words from any student could instantly vaporize the career of any teacher. Francois, the real-life teacher exhibiting patience that would make Job look bi-polar in comparison, manages to defy expectation and give us an unprecedented surprise ending; apparently there IS something that most students still fear! Recommended to all teachers and anyone interested in the teaching process. 10*.....ENJOY/DISFRUTELA!

Any comments, questions or observations, in English or Español, are most welcome!
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Slice of Life in a French Classroom
3xHCCH18 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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Between The Walls – Quasi Documentary Draws You In.
isabelle195515 March 2009
Warning: 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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alexmccourt13 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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Self-portrait of us all
David Ferguson21 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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Not just a movie, also an experience
Harry T. Yung11 December 2008
Warning: 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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Explores the frustrations felt by both teacher and student
Howard Schumann15 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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A Look Into One School Year That Brings me Back
OkayDoood15 December 2009
I will start with saying that the subtitles made it difficult to understand the specifics of their dialogue. But notwithstanding, Entre Les Murs really feels like I've spent a year in the school with these students. We see the power structure between teachers, admin, and students. We see the problems and challenges that the system has. We also, more importantly, see the interpersonal relationships between the teachers and the students.

This movie doesn't sentimentalize or sugar-coat the learning experience. Lean On Me, this is not. This vision is as stark and cold as the fluorescent light bulbs above the class. The warmth, however brief, is provided by the students and their teachers.

I enjoyed the realistic acting. I never for once thought that I was anywhere else except for a real classroom. I enjoyed the characters, though I wish that I would be able to get in their heads more and see their motivation.

What I liked the most is that we saw an unbiased, holistic viewpoint of the school year. Some students learned a lot, some learned nothing, and life moves on like a soccer match in the school halls.
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Love this film!
Josh B15 March 2009
I really enjoyed this film; however, I will disclose I thought about 10 minutes could be shaved off as a whole. The documentary style feel to the film aided not only the intimacy of looking into the classroom, but also into the lives of the students and teachers. It was refreshing to see "the human" side of a teacher portrayed--one that is fallible, not always saying the right thing despite trying to do the right thing...which is often what all people struggle with. Also, I liked that the film focused primarily on the episodes within the school rather than drifting into a melodramatic cliché of teenage angst or stereotypical conflicts. The Class is a nice balance of glimpsing into the world of teachers and their students.
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The Anti-Dead Poets Society
evanston_dad30 December 2009
An absolutely engrossing pseudo-documentary about a year in the life of a classroom in one of France's poorer, immigrant-dominated schools.

This is no inspirational teacher/student story on the order of "Stand and Deliver." Rather, this is a grunt's eye view of what it's like to make it through a day with kids who haven't been given the least bit of chance to excel or succeed. The teacher at the center of the film is no saint. His method is to maintain a constant state of intellectual dominance that comes across as arrogant and condescending, and at one critical juncture in the film that results in the expulsion of a problem student he's downright inappropriate. However, this film offers no easy solutions, and it's clear that he does enjoy a certain rapport with his students that the other teachers don't, despite his sometimes questionable approach. One senses that being nice and nurturing wouldn't get him very far anyway -- these particular students sense weakness and use it to their advantage.

A riveting film.

Grade: A+
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Did not live up to the hype at all
tianxiafengyung19 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I went to see this film after reading about all the hype surrounding its subject matter and the manner in which it was dealt with. However after sitting through 2 whole hours of non-stop dialogue and close shots, i felt sapped of all my prior enthusiasm and my subsequent good will toward the film.

It's subject matter - multiculturalism and ethnic-based tension within the school context - is most definitely an intriguing and sensitive subject matter; and perhaps one of the least explored areas of film/television. However, The Class doesn't go nearly in depth as it could have done with the rich material at hand.

A feature film in name, and filmed in close-quarter documentary style, it does offer a slice/mirror of life account of French urban school. But it fails both as a feature film and as a documentary.

The narrative is sporadic and the pace is slow and lacklustre. It felt unpolished and more akin to notes to a novella than an actual novel. There were several interesting narratives and characters which could have been explored at depth, but the director has chosen merely to gloss over them.

Although the film takes an 'tell it as it is in reality' approach, it lacked the acuteness of a fully developed documentary. It didn't have a strong angle in which the viewer could be drawn to, confronted with, or debated about.

The end result is an all too self-conscious (the screen writer even plays the main protagonist) expose on a subject matter, in which this films skims over rather than having the courage to tackle it head on.

I am left wondering whether this films serves more as an accompaniment to François Bégaudeau's book than anything else.

I do see the merits of the film for those who may never experienced first-hand the complexities of multiculturalism in young people, but having grown up experiencing first hand what the film depicts, it doesn't go nearly as thorough as i wished it could have.
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Not for everyone
johnemb7 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This film starts out in the teacher's lounge in an (secondary) school in Paris. It is the start of a new school year, and the teachers are planning the coming year.

We follow a male, relatively young, French teacher (he teaches the French language) and his class, consisting of a good mix of native French and immigrants, males and females.

Watching this film in the cinema I felt interested for about half the length of the film. The dialogs between the teacher and his students were at times fun and interesting to see. The teacher, as well as the film audience, wants to get to know the students better, what their personalities are like.

However, as the film progresses, I lost interest - it became almost monotonous. I expected something more... a real plot, a story. Then again, the feeling of the film is very much as a documentary. This is a good indication of the quality of the acting, which was very good indeed.

For me, this film was too long and in the end not very interesting nor satisfying (I won't say more, to avoid having to give a spoiler alert).

I will recommend this film for certain groups of people only. Consider seeing this film if you are:

  • Learning or otherwise interested in the French language.

  • Above average interested in the French school system.

  • A school teacher.

  • A pupil/student in Junior High or equivalent.

  • A parent of one or more kids in the age of 13 to 16.

If you do not fit well into one of these descriptions, you are probably better off spending your time and money on something else.
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Interesting, as a story of one teacher's experiences
bandw20 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
You might question if sitting in on a a racially mixed class of junior high school students (ages 13-15) from a working class neighborhood in Paris is something you would want to do. I have to admit that this did not sound all that exciting, but this movie held my interest more than I expected. The original French title "Entre les Murs" (between the walls) is more appropriate than "The Class," since 99% of the story takes place inside the a single school and most of it within the confines of a classroom, where French teacher François Marin (François Bégaudeau) holds forth. Marin has his work cut out for him, since his class is an amalgamation of a wide spectrum of temperaments, ethnicities, and abilities. The class is so diverse that I wondered if it is at all representative, or whether the students chosen for the film were not picked to accomplish the diversity effect. It surely makes for a lively classroom experience, but a reservation I have is that it tempts us to make general judgments about the status of the French educational system when in fact it is the story of one teacher, one class, in one school.

Marin's teaching style is designed to actively engage the students in their schoolwork as well as in conversations about themselves. His main assignment for the year was to get the kids to write about themselves, not so much autobiographies but what they liked and didn't like, what they felt they were good at, and what not so good, what they liked about themselves and what they were embarrassed by, and so forth. Marin seemed to have a sincere desire to know his students personally, and that is the hook that kept my interest, since I came to want to know more about these students too. But Marin's relaxed style comes with problems, since it allows his students to be more assertive than is desired and results in frequent loss of focus on the task at hand. For example, one of the students asks Marin in class if the rumor is true that he likes men. Marin handles most such questions with finesse, but he is not above getting involved in some heated debates and saying things to his students that a teacher should not say. Given the diversity in the student's abilities it is hard for Marin to know what level of difficulty to choose, but his getting into the minutiae of grammar, like the distinction between the imperfect subjunctive and the imperfect indicative, seemed quite out of place in a class where many of the students could hardly read French and had a minimal vocabulary. However, in spite of Marin's failings, his class was so fractious that I came to view him with some respect for his persistence in trying to teach these kids anything.

Near the end of the film Marin asked each student to tell about something he or she had learned in any of their classes, and the response was less than inspiring. One girl said that she had learned nothing (even though Marin was able to draw her out), one boy fumbled around with trying to state the Pythagorian Theorem, and another struggled with a fact from chemistry, and so forth. I came away feeling that not much was learned in the way of formal education, but the fact that Marin and is colleagues were able to shepherd these students through a school-year where much was discussed, arguments had, decisions made (both bad and good by both students and teachers), and students from different backgrounds bounced off each other, was maybe the most significant learning achievement.

These mostly underprivileged kids had to sense that Marin was trying to do his best for them. After the final class had been dismissed and Marin was getting ready to leave, the last girl to leave came up to him and said that she felt that she had learned nothing in any of her subjects. Marin tried to convince her otherwise, but was not very successful. I found this closing note to be quite sad, but then I thought that at least this girl thought enough of Marin to approach him with her confession.

If education is the foundation of a civilized society, then I wonder what role these students will play in such a society.

Lest one think that the class dealt with in "The Class" is a recent phenomenon, see the 1955 movie, "Blackboard Jungle."

Watching the "making of" extra on the DVD is well worth it. In many ways the actual kids are more winning as people away from the movie set than they are in the film. Seeing the whole class honored at the Cannes Film Festival was moving and I am sure was an experience these kids will always treasure.
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To Sir, without Love
Claudio Carvalho14 August 2009
During the school year in a public school in the periphery of Paris, the teacher and member of the disciplinary committee François Marin (François Bégaudeau) gives French lessons to a heterogeneous group of racially mixed students between thirteen and fifteen years old. There are good students, but there also others without discipline and interest in the classes. During a meeting with the evaluation committee formed by the school teachers, the student representatives Esmeralda (Esmeralda Ouertani) and Louise (Louise Grinberg) grin all the time without any participation in the discussion; however, on the next morning, they gossip to their schoolmates the subjects of the meeting. The Malian bad student Souleymane (Franck Keïta) offends François and accidentally hits the student Khoumba (Rachel Regulier) with his bag, hurting her face. François reports the incident to the principal and Souleymane has to face the fearing the disciplinary committee.

"Entre les Murs" is another good movie that exposes the relationship of teachers and their students in a public school, this time in the boundary of Paris. This theme is engaging and has produced many good movies, highlighting the classic "To Sir, with Love", "Class of 1984" and "Dangerous Minds". However, "Entre les Murs" succeeds in the pretension of exposing a sample of modern France, for example with poor immigrants from the former French colonies whose families can not even speak French language or students without any perspective in adult life. The result is a tense and crude low-budget theatrical movie, supported by magnificent performances and with an ending without any redemption or hope. My vote is seven.

Note: "Mali is a country of western Africa. The site of several powerful states, including the Mali (flourished 14th century) and the Songhai (flourished 15th-16th centuries), Mali became part of French West Africa in the 19th century and achieved independence in 1960. Bamako is the capital and the largest city".

Title (Brazil): "Entre os Muros da Escola" ("Within the Walls of the School")
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Talky, in the best sense of the word.
Bones Eijnar21 January 2009
ENTRE LES MURS is a film about a teacher and his class of 13-year old students with different ethnics, races and cultures. It can surely be viewed as a political statement or a suggestive look at its country's school-system, but mainly I think this is a detailed but yet very shadowed approach at a certain class instructed by a certain teacher in a certain city named Paris. What this film is about can be so many things - and what's obvious is what it says about the clash of different teenagers who gets told what's right and wrong (in THIS country), and how to behave and how to think when most of the pupils weren't at all born by French parents, but maybe Moroccan, or Chinese or Ivorian? The actor performances are outstanding, and as aforementioned, it doesn't necessarily explain things accurately, or raise the hammer very effectively on important questions; what it does it that it's thoughtful, and very subtle in its movements toward answers that you know will never be found.

It won the Palme d'Or respectively, and I think it's an interesting story shot with an eye for underpinned questions and human as much as political subtext.
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...sometimes the student can create an atmosphere that keeps the class from learning.
lastliberal8 September 2009
Seven wins, including a Golden Palm, and eight nominations, including Oscar, and there is no doubt that this was one of the best films last year.

Anyone contemplating teaching would do well to see this film, and see the difficulty for both students and teachers.

For students, it is their home lives, and the fact that they often do not understand the relevance of the material. Those that are interested in learning, are often at the mercy of those who constantly interrupt the teaching experience.

For teachers, it is the difficulty of reaching all the students, and know what is important in their lives.

It is not about one side being right or wrong, but about how futile it is to expect learning to occur in this atmosphere.

This is not a documentary, although it was done with real students. They learned their roles. The fact that their personalities were in them, made them all the more interesting.

Life is tough for teachers, and it is tough for teens, who are learning while trying to discover who they are.

This film shows just how tough it is.
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"The Class" a Class Act
sharkfinsoup16 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
We've all seen movies where a a charismatic teacher turns around an underperforming class, which comes to adore him. Think "To Sir With Love", "Dead Poets Society" and so on.

There's no magical Hollywood ending in "The Class;" it's gritty, real movie about one teacher and his French class in a middle school in a poor Parisian neighborhood. Many kids are from immigrant families, from places like Morocco, Mali, and China. We follow the teacher and class through one academic year.

The teacher, Mr. Marin, has been at the school for 3 or 4 years. He's had some of the kids, in previous years, but he doesn't quite understand the kids for all his obvious good intentions. Nor do the kids understand him, nor are they willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

On the first day, a history teacher asks Mr. Marin if maybe they could coordinate the history his class will be covering with the literature selection that the French class will do. Mr Marin shoots down one suggested book after another, as "too hard" for the class, including Voltaire's "Candide." And "Candide", is one of the most accessible French novels around." This sure seems like an unconscious judgment that the kids are not capable of this.

Right off, there's a culture clash between the teacher and the kids. He writes a sentence on the blackboard to demonstrate a vocabulary word using the name "Bill" and one girl challenges him, asking why he always uses honky names in his examples. He asks them what names they would like to see him use and the class deliberates this. They eventually come up with a name they like better.

We see him attacked by the kids as he explains the imperfect subjunctive ("If I were you..".) It's used more in French than English, but still not exactly an essential in the French language either. But still, to write well, and get a decent office job, it's one of those things that matters. But the kids complain that they've never heard anyone use the subjunctive in their lives. So Mr. Marin has to make the case that there is ordinary spoken French of the neighborhood, but also the spoken and written language of the majority French culture. And you have to be able to navigate among the various "French" languages. Absolutely true, and yet not something that seems very real to these kids.

We get to know some of the individuals in the class better. Wei is a Chinese boy, older than the rest. Self-deprecating about his "poor French" (which didn't sound that bad to me...but maybe it was just his modesty.) Wei works hard and is respectful to the teacher.

Suleymane is from Mali. He doesn't come prepared to class most of the time. He's generally withdrawn & angry. When kids do "self-portrait" projects, Suleymane wants to do one mainly with photos from a digital camera. He's better at visual images than with words. Mr. Marin helps him a bit with this, and posts the finished project on the bulletin board. Suleymane is flabbergasted that the teacher wants to display his project, because he thinks the teacher really doesn't like him. He doesn't get that, for whatever strictness Mr Marin has and whatever punishments he might mete out, he's really on Suleymane's side.

Esmeralda and Khoumba are two girls, good friends, who are smart, self-assured, and are in a running tug of war with Mr. Marin over respect. He thinks that they are insubordinate and disrespectful. And they think he is disrespectful of them.

Things get ugly when, after class, he demands an apology from Khoumba for what he sees as her disrespect. And things turn even uglier when he calls Esmeralda and another girl "pétasses," a word that can mean "stupid tarts" or "skanks/sluts." He means the first meaning, which is mildly pejorative, but, of course, Esmeralda thinks that he is dissing her in a big way with the second meaning. Events spiral out of control when Suleymane comes to the girls defense, and in a verbal match with Mr. Marin he gets so angry that he leaves the class without permission, accidentally hitting Khoumba with a piece of metal on his way out. This chain of circumstances paves the way to an expulsion hearing for Suleymane.

What works so well in this film is that nobody's the hero and nobody's the villain. Just human beings struggling in an imperfect educational system. Across a cultural divide. A BIG cultural divide. François Bégaudeau, who wrote the book the film is based on, and the screenplay, and is himself a teacher, more or less plays himself. He gives a wonderful performance, willing to show himself warts and all. And he shows the rough and tumble way a teacher has to keep control of a confrontational class. Especially if he is not going to just be the strict disciplinarian but try to connect with his students.

The kids are not young professional actors, but real kids from similar backgrounds who auditioned for the parts and then were given acting lessons. Some of the content was improvised by the kids and Bégaudeau. This looks and feels like a documentary, but it's really a work of fiction, bringing into sharp focus how the French educational system serves or doesn't serve kids like these.

Laurent Cantet is a director looking for an honest portrayal of classroom dynamics. He works hard to get portrayal where things don't always work, but there's no simple way to pin blame. The subtle dynamics of people within an institution.

I found myself mesmerized. I don't know if everyone will be so interested in a classroom movie. But if you think you might be, don't miss this powerful film.

This won the Palme D'or at Cannes in 2008, with a unanimous jury.
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Paradise or Gehenna
stensson31 December 2008
This is about the problem school in a Paris immigrant area. The teacher tries to teach, but mostly, he tries to communicate with the pupils. In some cases he's successful and in some cases not.

There's a documentary feeling here, which means the acting is extremely good. The teacher also performs a small war towards his colleagues, who wants to discipline the pupils. But there are no action scenes here. Not more than you can find in real life.

Good picture about living people. One year passes. Some of the pupils have a future and some haven't. There are different destinies ahead. But the teacher will remain there.
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Realistic and Vivid
pizzamonsterdude30 March 2009
The Class may be difficult for some to watch by virtue of the simple fact that the dialogue in the film is very back and forth and chatty.... But it was beautifully realistic to the point that I thought I was there, in the classroom... When I compare this to American movies about high school, even ones that do focus on the classroom dynamic, it is so much more realistic and vivid.

Sure, you can say, 'oh, it was too engrossing,' or 'oh, there was no real ending,' or whatever, but the plain and simple truth remains.... this movie is truer to life as a teacher or a student than most... and, there is also the racial dynamic to get into..... The black students in the film are all from countries that were colonized by the French, which adds to their antagonism toward the teacher, and their feeling that he is antagonistic toward them...

To be frank, though, it's the directors style and the improvisational nature of the script that you will either love for the realism it creates or hate for the natural complexity it creates.
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class dismissed
johno-2114 January 2009
I recently saw this at the 2009 Palm Springs International Film Festival. this film is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Francois Begaudeau who wrote the book and the screenplay and stars in the title role of a French teacher in a Parisian school filled with inner city at risk youth comprised of French and immigrant children to France. The teachers at the school keep tabs on the unruliest of the students and dismiss them as troublemakers and unable to learn in a classroom environment. Begaudeau takes a good guy-tough guy approach and tries to be one of the kids as their mentor-friend but his plans don't always work the way he envisions and sometimes backfire. This is shot in a documentary-style with rapid fire dialog from the students and teacher and tight close shots of the actors. It's a small film done on a low budget from director Laurent Cantet and is too long of a film as your interest wanes after about 30 minutes. despite being too long it fails to fully explore and develop some potentially interesting characters and basically comes from nowhere and goes nowhere. It was a packed theater with every seat filled at my screening and I looked forward to seeing this but came away disappointed. I would rate this a 5.5 out of 10 and could not recommend it.
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It's like school, but more boring
Jackie_Chun5 March 2014
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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