The Class (Entre les murs)
Directed by: Laurent Cantet
Written by: FranÃ§ois BÃ©gaudeau, Robin Campillo, Laurent Cantet
Starring: FranÃ§ois BÃ©gaudeau, Nassim Amrabt, Laura Baquela, Cherif BounaÃ¯dja 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 â€“ 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 Wireâ€¦ 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, FranÃ§ois BÃ©gaudeau, 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