Cannes 2008 diary: 'The Class' (’Entre les Murs‘)

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Geoff Andrew loves the new film from Laurent Cantet, the French director of the masterful 2001 film 'Time Out'

With the Official Competition having been widely regarded as generally decent but lacking in knock-out fare, the late showing of ‘The Class’ (‘Entre les Murs’) came as an extremely welcome surprise.

Directed and co-written by Laurent Cantet (‘Human Resources’, ‘Time Out’), the film is set in a school in the Parisian suburbs; indeed, with the exception of a handful of brief scenes shot in the staff room, the corridors, and the playground, the entire movie is set in one classroom, where François (François Zegaudau), a French teacher of some four years standing, attempts to instill some sort of discipline and enthusiasm for learning into a motley, multicultural group of 13- and 14-year-olds.

The movie initially comes on like a documentary, with Begaudau – a teacher who has written several novels – interacting with the sassy, loquacious and frequently very imaginative real-life students at a school in the 20th arrondissement. Gradually, however, a narrative thread beings to emerge from the sometimes heated, sometimes cordial, always fertile dialogue between the teacher and his pupils, as one of the latter – a Malian boy called Souleymane – begins to stand out as unprepared to take part in quite the same way as his peers. As problems start to arise, Cantet and Begaudau tease out and explore a range of relevant issues to do with contemporary education.

Everything rings absolutely true in this film, and everything is utterly engrossing from start to finish, despite the apparent lack of a straightforward narrative during the first hour. At the end, in a delightfully unexpected allusion to Plato’s ‘Republic’, the filmmakers drop a hint as to what they’ve been up to; there are no easy answers proffered to the various questions raised about education, schools and society, but the film makes for admirably lucid, subtle and thought-provoking drama throughout. And the kids are terrific.

Author: Geoff Andrew



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