Cannes 2008 diary: 'The Class' (’Entre les Murs‘)
Geoff Andrew loves the new film from Laurent Cantet, the French director of the masterful 2001 film 'Time Out'
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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