The Class (15)

Film

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Time Out rating:

<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>5</span>/5

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<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>3</span>/5
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Time Out says

Mon Sep 15 2008

What French director Laurent Cantet (‘Human Resources’, ‘Heading South’) realises so smartly and warmly in this thoroughly modern and thoughtful portrait of a rowdy and adorable class of multi-ethnic Parisian teenagers over one school year is that you don’t need to force false dramatic arcs, themes or characters on a film to make totally believable such an endeavour. For Cantet, the real classroom and its occupants are theatre company and players enough to do the job from the bottom up. The result is a sparkling, clever work whose ensemble cast impresses, surprises, wrongfoots and disappoints you in exactly the same fashion a class might its teacher.

Which is not to say that Cantet has made a documentary or that he’s let improvisation run wild. Far from it, for at heart this is a scripted drama filmed with subtle artistry that may invoke the energy of the fly-on-the-wall doc but is no slave to that look. Within the film run the arteries of true, honest and lively collaboration, not least because its lead actor, playing the teacher, is 37-year-old François Bégaudeau, once a ‘prof’ himself, who turned his novel, ‘Entre les Murs’, based on his teaching experiences, into a screenplay with Cantet and writer Robin Campillo. They recruited Parisian schoolkids and, on the back of workshops, filmed the drama within the grounds of a real school – mostly within the four walls of a classroom.
There’s an anarchic feel to the film as we are immersed in lessons, see snippets from staffroom life and dive headfirst into class projects. But, slyly, a composite portrait emerges, one that starts to take root when we meet some of the kids’ mums and dads during a parents’ evening and are asked to think about the pupils’ backgrounds and the baggage they bring to the classroom.

The performances are fresh and alive, the source material impeccable, but language is the film’s motor. ‘No one says that,’ complains brassy Esmerelda when being taught the subjunctive. In this arena, language can offend at the drop of a report card. It also reveals so much. The pupils are ‘wild animals’ complains a teacher at the end of his tether in the staff room, an accusation that shocks us, while Souleymane, a kid from Mali, reacts nervously to the request that they write self-portraits: ‘I don’t talk about myself,’ he says, initiating a moving scene in which the teacher extracts photos from him instead. It’s later, when François flippantly directs the word pétasse, which can mean ‘whore’, at a pupil that his harsh words in an earlier meeting with class reps return to haunt him.

Silence, too, has an enlightening role: at the end of the film, a kid whom we’ve barely noticed comes forward to François, her head hanging, and claims that she’s learnt nothing all year. It’s a desperately sad moment that gets to the core of the film’s very human message: no person or enterprise is perfect. François is a good teacher, but he can screw up. Good pupils do bad things and vice versa. Cantet is never more judgemental than this. He’s a realist on two levels: cinema and life.

It’s a film that’s good on exploring, undermining and confirming first impressions. At the start of the film, a teacher runs through a list of pupils with a colleague, defining them as ‘nice’ or ‘not nice’ or, in one case, ‘not nice at all’. It’s our pleasure, and Cantet’s reward, that by the time the film ends on a shot of an empty classroom we’d struggle to apply such simple labels to anyone we’ve met. The film deserves all the praise sent its way since Sean Penn’s jury gave it the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year.
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Release details

Rated:

15

UK release:

Fri Feb 27, 2009

Duration:

128 mins

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LiveReviews|12
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mark

Leaburn - glad to see someone agrees with me. I didnt mention the quality of the teaching but you're right - frankly I'd be very embarrassed about this export from my country if I was Bégaudeau. I suppose it will be useful to show PGCE students as an illustration of crap teaching, though it appears to be a pretty damning indictment of the French education system: the teaching is woefully understimulating, there is no teacher support (where are the learning mentors, SEN, EAL etc?) and kids get permanently excluded for a bit of backchat. One bouquet though - a superb cameo from the actress who plays the Malian mother of the excluded kid, who is magnificently disdainful of the smug self satisfied teachers. 'Mesdames, messieurs, adieu', she says as she walks out of the room. My sentiments exactly !!

John Cooper

An excellent film which accurately conveys the difficult job which teachers have in inner-city multicultural schools. It's a tough film to watch as five- fifths of the action takes place in a small classroom, but then this is exactly proportionate to the amount of time teachers spent each day in the classroom. I thought, on the whole, the teacher did pretty well trying to cope with the negativity of some pupils whilst trying to harness the positive input by others. It angers me that this teacher would receive criticism from that monumental waste of tax-payers' money known as OFSTED. This organization wastes £220 of your money every year on bureacrats in comfy sinecures who make sure they keep their contact with dysfunctional pupils to a bare minumum, leaving the classroom teachers to all the hard work. Go and see this film, it tells you more about teaching in 2 hours, than Ofsted has since its inception. Don't worry about the Parisian location, as it's much the same in the inner-city UK schools.

John Cooper

An excellent film which accurately conveys the difficult job which teachers have in inner-city multicultural schools. It's a tough film to watch as five- fifths of the action takes place in a small classroom, but then this is exactly proportionate to the amount of time teachers spent each day in the classroom. I thought, on the whole, the teacher did pretty well trying to cope with the negativity of some pupils whilst trying to harness the positive input by others. It angers me that this teacher would receive criticism from that monumental waste of tax-payers' money known as OFSTED. This organization wastes £220 of your money every year on bureacrats in comfy sinecures who make sure they keep their contact with dysfunctional pupils to a bare minumum, leaving the classroom teachers to all the hard work. Go and see this film, it tells you more about teaching in 2 hours, than Ofsted has since its inception. Don't worry about the Parisian location, as it's much the same in the inner-city UK schools.

Marion

Great film, not boring at all. Great kids acting, and did make me think ( i taught college kids in france ). as for the kids not being as unruly as those in the UK? ..

Marion

Great film, not boring at all. Great kids acting, and did make me think ( i taught college kids in france ). as for the kids not being as unruly as those in the UK? ..

leaburn

Have to agree with Mark. I am a teacher in a London comprehensive and it certainly felt like a bad day at the office. This was nothing to do with the kids but more to do with the terrible quality of the teaching, The film was ok but its heralded realism only stretches a s far as liberal sentimental views of what urban schools actually look like, Yeah the kids were lively but there was actually remarkably little behavioural problems. If a teacher this bad was in a similar school the children would simply not be listening to him; let alone engaging him in jovial debate. The uniformly positive reception is what has been most annoying; broadsheet film critics pertaining to have some kind of empathy for inner cty education and its realities. Their views just highlight the chasm between middle class sensibility and everyday reality for millions of young people accross Europe.

Sutton

Whilst the film is well acted by both both the lead and the children, I found it tedious and felt it dragged on interminably. The film may be worthy, but get on with it... I have to say teachers deserve medals if they have to deal with that sort of behaviour... I came out of the cinema disliking the film, having read the review and comments below, I can appreciate that it was a different experience, though not necessarily an enjoyable one.

jane

Great, interesting, thought provoking film which works on multiple levels. Nice review as well.

jane

Great, interesting, thought provoking film which works on multiple levels. Nice review as well.

Raphael

Mark - I have no idea how you could find this film "patronising." Patronising to who?? Kids?? You?? I think it showed kids having personalities and precisely not being stereotypes - kids being kids - sometimes interesting, sometimes dull, co-operative and childish. I don't know what you're talking about with regard to prejudices - what do you mean? Plus I don't think all the kids are supposed to be working class - some of them struck me as distinctly middle class, though I don't know much re. French society.

Raphael

Mark - I have no idea how you could find this film "patronising." Patronising to who?? Kids?? You?? I think it showed kids having personalities and precisely not being stereotypes - kids being kids - sometimes interesting, sometimes dull, co-operative and childish. I don't know what you're talking about with regard to prejudices - what do you mean? Plus I don't think all the kids are supposed to be working class - some of them struck me as distinctly middle class, though I don't know much re. French society.

mark

it's been a while since I've became so bored with a film that I could have left the cinema (I stayed out of politeness to a friend). If you work with kids this is a busman's holiday. The kids' acting is great, that is to say that the film manages to faithfully recreate the tedium of teaching, while the interminably good humoured discussions in the staffroom lacked any dramatic tension. This has neither the interest of being a real documentary or the attraction of being good art. Oh, and one more thing - why are the people responsible for English subtitles so useless, in film after film that I see ? This one is particularly badly done, by someone who seemed to have decided that they would compensate for their lack of knowledge of English slang by just making it up; 'you really riffed him' .... what?