The Class

2008

Drama

56
Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 95%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 82%
IMDb Rating 7.5 10 33,691

Synopsis


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1.16 GB
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French 2.0
PG-13
23.976 fps
128 min
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2.39 GB
1920×1080
French 2.0
PG-13
23.976 fps
128 min
P/S N/A / N/A

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Chris Knipp 10 / 10 / 10

The dynamics of a multi-ethnic Paris middle school class skillfully recreated

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.

Reviewed by MaxBorg89 8 / 10 / 10

A sample of real life

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.

Reviewed by JuguAbraham 8 / 10 / 10

A beguiling, stimulating feature film on education resembling a documentary

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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