The Class (Laurent Cantet, 2008) is a slow-burning film of extraordinary realism, almost wholly set within a racially diverse middle-school literature class in inner city Paris over the course of a school year.
The Class is based on François Bégaudeau’s 2006 novel, Entre les Murs that draws on his experiences teaching in an inner city Paris middle school. The book won the national award for fiction (the Prix France Culture/Télérama) and Bégaudeau both stars in the film and co-wrote the screenplay with Robin Campillo and director, Cantet. In France, both the book and the film are named, Between the Walls, clearly communicating the revealing nature of the material. Adding to the sense of realism is that the roles of the students and the teachers are 'acted’ by real-life students and teachers from a school in Paris\' 20th arrondissement.
Three directors of photography (Pierre Milon, Catherine Pujol and Georgi Lazarevski) were each armed with a high-definition video camera, and you feel present in the classroom and experience each success and each failure, acutely.
François Marin (Bégaudeau) is a literature teacher with four years\' experience at Dolto High. As a white, French national by birth, Marin is a minority in the racially diverse class of 13, 14 and 15 year-olds. In this microcosm of contemporary inner city Paris students regularly question traditional French sensibilities and their relevance.
'What’s with the Bills?" asks Khoumba (Rachel Régulier).
'The name Bill."
'What do you suggest?"
Mr. Marin cultivates this dynamic classroom energy, largely encouraging questions and always seeking openness. His manner is often blunt — his demeanour tough to match the neighbourhood and throughout the course of the school year we come to question some of his decisions. At the same time, like so many good teachers, he actively encourages talent and experiences immense pride over student achievements. The balance between the two — tactless disciplinarian and nurturing educator is Marin’s fraught journey explored within the film in an understated, non-sensationalist way.
While Mr. Marin is the anchor of The Class, it is first and foremost a multi-protagonist film and the student-actors in particular play their 'roles’ exceptionally. Their stories make the film highly contemporary and raise real questions about nationalism and society today.
Modest and unassuming, a film about humanity and potential, The Class doesn’t shy away from the flawed nature of an education system that puts pressure on teachers and allows students to slip through the cracks and what it reveals about the daily difficulties facing students such as Wei (Wei Huang) and second generation Malian, Souleymane (Franck Keïta) will break your heart.
Well worth a look.