Teacher François Marin and his colleagues are preparing for another school year teaching at a racially mixed inner city high school in Paris. The teachers talk to each other about their prospective students, both the good and the bad. The teachers collectively want to inspire their students, but each teacher is an individual who will do things in his or her own way to achieve the results they desire. They also have differing viewpoints on the students themselves, and how best to praise and discipline them. The administration of the school tries to be as fair as possible, which includes having student representatives sit on the student evaluation committee. Marin's class this year of fourteen and fifteen year olds is no different than previous years, although the names and faces have changed. Marin tries to get through to his students, sometimes with success and sometimes resulting in utter failure. Even Marin has his breaking point, which may result in him doing things he would ...Written by
Explores the frustrations felt by both teacher and student
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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