falderal : a moving images blog
The Class ; 2008  ·  Posted by Tallulah

Posted by Maddy

Director: Laurent Cantet
Actors: François Bégaudeau, Agame Malembo-Emene, Angélica Sancio, Boubacar Toure
Country: France

Films about teachers too often fall into treacherous territory. Cheesy, shumltzy, and clichéd are some of the most appropriate terms for any film involving a teacher (usually white) inspiring students (usually of a visible minority). The teacher then convinces the kids to get out of their terrible situation, to be inspired by school, to become everything they can be while having insightful conversations that challenges and makes the audience think. All of which fall under the category of “unwatchable.”

The Class, this years’ Palme D’Or winner, escapes all such tropes. Set in one of the tougher neighbourhoods of France, the film follows the teacher Marin and his French class, a diverse group from the ages of 13-15. Keeping the story simple, The Class follows this classroom for a year. The job of teaching these kids is far from rewarding. They’re rude, they talk back, they question authority and do as much as they can to disrupt what is being taught to them. Each of these altercations, some of which are self improving and others are self destructive, build up tension in this film. Whether with his students, the students with each other or with their parents, Marin takes in his stride, rarely letting these confrontations get to him. The film does not show the personal lives of the students or the teachers – almost everything that happens takes place within the classroom. The tension mounts until the climax of the film involves an argument between Marin and his students which quickly spins out of control. After watching everything that has built up to it, it puts the audience in a place where it can sympathize with both Marin and his students despite Marin doing something grossly unprofessional.

The Class, whose original title directly translates into Between The Walls, gives a fly on the wall perspective of what happens in this classroom. Each student is someone who could have been in your French class and the arguments they have, including one over the imperfect subjective could be part of a documentary rather than a feature film. Since the film remains within the walls of the classroom, the audience never knows why Marin and the students act like this, their background, their personal stories. Marin assigned each student at the beginning of the film to do a self portrait and this assignment is all the audience, as well as Marin, get to know about these students. The minimalist concept is captivating and the film is incredibly well written. The films overall message is left ambiguous – are the faltering students victims of an indifferent system, is Marin not doing everything he could, or is this simply the way it is, is never made clear. Perhaps the arc of Marin, who forgives those who makes mistakes and is forgiven for his own, is the only real moral message of the film.

Like most Palme D’Or winners of recent years, The Class is well made, well acted and well written, but far from outstanding. Most likely to be a critical and art house favourite of 2008/2009 this well composed film is overall forgettable. Still, by keeping it simple and realistic, The Class manages to outshine most of the films in its tired genre.

Leave a Reply