The Class Review

The Class (Entre les murs)
Directed by: Laurent Cantet
Written by: François Bégaudeau, Robin Campillo, Laurent Cantet
Starring: François Bégaudeau, Nassim Amrabt, Laura Baquela, Cherif Bounaïdja Rachedi

Despite winning the Palme D’Or this past year, The Class completely went under my radar until just about a week before it opened, when seemingly every Toronto critic all of a sudden had a 5 star review and was retroactively insisting it to be one of the best films of last year. I went to see The Class pretty much blind, and perhaps this was a good decision. I doubt a trailer for a film like this would exactly pop or get asses in seats.

And that’s too bad, because it’s absolutely true – whether you consider it a 2008 or a 2009 film, this is a damn great one and worthy of a spot near the top of anyone’s list. The story is quite simple: a group of discouraged teachers get through a new year at a tough school in a lower class neighborhood, and for the most part we focus on one specific classroom. Despite having nothing but the best intentions, there are clashes in culture, generations, and a look at the fine line between respect and chaos in a classroom. So in other words, there is not a whole lot of plot, and a whole lot of talking. Imagine Gus Van Sant taking on the education elements of season 4 of The Wire… in French. With huge Futura Extra Bold subtitles.

While much of the dialogue is funny in the way children riffing with an determined and amicable teacher can be, a lot of the film’s strengths deal with how the film depicts dealing with specific difficult situations that seem normal for any classroom, and a few that would seem abnormal to North American audiences. For the former, that would include simply students who are not pulling their weight, fights, backtalk, and parent-teacher conferences. For the latter, well, for example, apparently in France there are student representatives for the class who are present as the teachers grade them. Things that are said get back to everyone in the classroom. Of course this would happen, and you would assume this would happen again and again and again. I would have to hear from people in France to let me know how accurate scenes like this are, but they are fascinating nonetheless.

Every performance in this film is very good, and almost all the kids seem to essentially be playing themselves. The star and writer of the film, François Bégaudeau, plays himself and seems to be relaying his own experiences. Every character is naturalistic enough that you could play snippets of the film and convince people it is a documentary.

Overall the film is very amusing, emotionally engaging, and very strong. Describing the conflicts in text would seem like minor drama, however the film handles them in a way that makes you realize the impact each of these small decisions play on so many lives. It is hard to make this movie look particularly exciting or interesting, and maybe harder to convince people to lay down 12 bucks to go see it in the theater (to be honest I don’t think it would lose much on DVD if you were to wait), but it absolutely is that good, and you’ll just have to see for yourself. — Goon

SCORE: 4 stars

  • I should review this movie for Killer Imports! Or maybe Goon’s review should have been posted under Killer Imports. I haven’t really gotten into foreign drama.

    Jay says I don’t appreciate subtlety. I’m hooked on 90210 and Gossip Girl right now, so maybe he’s right.

    I was channel surfing one day and came across a Japanese documentary about an old teacher who affects a class of young kids. I thought it was really moving how the teacher got the bully to cry, not by berating him, but by gradually getting the bully to empathize with others.

    I’m always suspicious about foreign dramas that get 5 stars from critics. Two Chinese dramas that I can name as examples are Hou Hsiao Hsien’s “Three Times” and Jia Zhang-Ke’s “The World.” I found both of these films to be so boring. To be honest, I haven’t finished watching “The World,” though. In the year of its release, it was named Best Foreign Film by the Toronto Film Critics Association.

  • Poorly written review. I do not care for Goon and believe he should be excluded from Filmjunk. Goon’s aggressive comments and need to argue is a real turn off to new posters.

  • Goon

    1. What does how I argue movies or other topics have anything to do with this review? I don’t claim to be the best reviewer in the world at all, but it’s certainly a fair one and you’re not helping by just saying its bad and then attacking me personally.

    2. If it bugs you that much you could at least be specific to a certain case and what particularly bothered you. It actually has been quite some time since my last actual argument that devolved from the actual film conversation into anything remotely personal.

    3. If you posted on one of those threads and feel offended, you could at least do the favor of outing yourself so I know who I’m talking to. I don’t remember your name.

    4. Yeah I’m a common poster, but if you actually sift through recent posts you’ll see I get my fair share of off topic slams and always have, ie. that apparently by disliking Gran Torino I’m gay or something. If I get one of those I don’t see how I’m required to not defend myself or retort with a half-assed comeback.

    5. I’m certainly not going to ever apologize for holding a strong opinion on an actual movie or the relevant issues it covers, and requesting someone withhold those views doesn’t seem fair or honest, especially when everyone else has the same opportunity to make their case.

  • Nice review Goon. Didn’t know you were posting over here. I waited until after I saw the movie to read and comment and had it not been for the lame, “I’m behind the safety and anonymity of my keyboard so I can say stupid thing I want” comment above, I wouldn’t have noticed your name attached to the review. ANYway…

    I think you’re spot on here. The kids are believable as hell. The thing HAS to be scripted (at least loosely), but its the least “script feeling” movie I can remember seeing in a long time.

    The trying for a plot in the final 30 minutes or so bogged the film down though in my opinion.

  • Barkley

    the review is written par for the course, but it made me want 2 see this movie. that must be a good thing. jinglehiner or whatever your name is, quit ur sour grapes – this site needs a lot more reviews and opinion writers

  • One Eyed Pete

    That need to argue everything and that need to mount such detailed defenses of your honor is exactly what I presume the poster was referring to. It shows shows your insecurity and hyper sensitivity.

    This is my first post here and maybe last because I agree that Goon and Henrik are turn offs. I have witnessed you get personal with people, I guess you can dish, but can’t take. I like the podcast no matter what and eagerly listen each week. I just thank Odin that Goon isn’t a part of that.

    No need to respond.

  • Goon

    I’m afraid yes there is a need to respond.

    There’s not many ways to defend yourself, whether its in defending Speed Racer or your own attitude – you can either explain yourself in detail, or turn it back around on the other person. Apparently I’m ‘insecure and hypersensitive’ for one and ‘personal’ and a ‘turn off’ if I do the other. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I don’t think my earlier response on this thread is unreasonable at all.

    I like to converse, I don’t hold back my opinion, and once in a while that opinion is going to butt heads with someone elses. If they are snarky to me I will snark back, if they are detailed and reasoned I do all I can to give that in return. I can be easily pulled into flame wars, that much is true, and Henrik and I have on more than one occasion brought out the worst in each other.

    So with that in mind I can deal with the fact that based on some things that have happened, some people are going to have problems with me and never give me another chance.

    But if the people complaining are those I’ve never even conversed with are coming in saying “first post and now I’m leaving”, forgive me but I have no idea if it’s real or if I’m just talking to someone who I may have already pissed off for whatever reason and is just exacting revenge.