The Class (15)
François Begaudeau plays a teacher in his own adapted story of an inner-city Parisian school. This is the bleak urban flipside of the rural idyll of Être et Avoir, but just as compelling. The teachers and pupils in the school, are real, playing improvised versions of themselves to a loose script. The camera never leaves the school – we see nothing of anyone’s home life – it focuses instead, as the French title implies, on what goes on between the walls of the classrooms, staff room and playground to an almost claustrophobic degree.
The film starts with the new school year as teachers, old and new, gather to meet and greet each other and discuss their pupils, the good and the bad. François Marin (Begaudeau), teaching French, has been assigned a class of racially mixed 14-15 year olds, many of whom do not have French as a first language. They do not look a promising lot at the start; they are rowdy and quarrelsome and Marin struggles to establish some sort of control – and teach a little French grammar. They make clear that whatever respect they grudgingly give, has to be earned. They challenge him at every point: why read books? why learn formal grammar when no one talks like that? Gradually Marin starts to make some connections as he (and we) get to know his pupils better, and finds out something about their home lives. His biggest success appears to be with a boy from Mali but this is put into jeopardy when Souleymane is threatened with expulsion. Eventually Marin’s self-control snaps under provocation – an act which alters his relationship with two of his pupils and brings repercussions. The year ends as it began, with an empty classroom and a clean blackboard ready for the new class. We leave them all feeling sympathetic, exasperated and desperately hoping that life turns out better for them.
This is director Laurent Cantet’s fourth feature film. He is a director in the Ken Loach tradition, using social realism to explore issues of class, work, attitude and (self)deception in contemporary society. His first three films were Human Resources (2000), Time Out (2001) and Heading South (2005).
Cast – Esmeralda Ouertani, Franck Keita, François Begaudeau, Laura Baquela, Nassim Amrabt, Rachel Regulier
Laurent Cantet | France | 2008 | 130 minutes | 15
Weighted vote 75.8%