Archive for April, 2009

The Class

April 1, 2009

Director – Laurent Cantet

Writer – Francois Begaudeau

Starring – Francois Begaudeau

Synopsis

François and his fellow teachers prepare for a new year at a high school in a tough neighborhood. Armed with the best intentions, they brace themselves to not let discouragement stop them from trying to give the best education to their students. Cultures and attitudes often clash in the classroom, a microcosm of contemporary France. As amusing and inspiring as the teenaged students can be, their difficult behavior can still jeopardize any teacher’s enthusiasm for the low-paying job. François insists on an atmosphere of respect and diligence. Neither stuffy nor severe, his extravagant frankness often takes the students by surprise. But his classroom ethics are put to the test when his students begin to challenge his methods…

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Review

Receiving numourous awards and various other nominations, including an Oscar, Francois Begaudeau’s first major screenplay was a success at festivals around the world. The Class plays out like many independent French films (ie not typically) using the structure of a school semester to build a narrative around. It focusses on students and teachers, giving a poignant look at each of their points of view; something that most of us have never been able to see first hand.

Although both sides of the classroom conflict are focussed upon, there is (intentionally) never any real intimacy with any of the characters. Even the main teacher that we follow is only ever seen as a teacher; despite a tantalising tracking shot of him vacating the building, which is cut off just before he leaves and we are left hanging, unable to enter his private life.  The lack of intimacy is reflected in the cinematography as the majority of the shots are framed in such a way (see above image) that there are foreground characters or objects that block the view of the characters in focus. We are left to attempt to understand the children from the teachers point of view and the teachers from the childrens point of view.

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From a socialogical standpoint, The Class reigns supreme. The interactions between the characters, who incidentally are mostly amateur actors, are delicately handled and intricately woven in Begaudeau’s screenplay and there is enough meat for your sociology paper to write itself. It has the burden of nye-on exact realism, partly to do with the excellent performances, which hurts itself in terms of drama. The exact things that you would expect to happen in a school, happen; so there are (SPOILER ALERT) no explosions, zombies, or cars with guns, and the characters remain so foreign that changes in friendship or other minor pieces of drama do not have the same effect as if the intimacy was there.

The humour of Begaudeau’s script, delivered masterfully by the amateur actors, breaks up the constant socialogical scrutinising and makes the film more digestible to the average audience member.

Overall – Its a novel idea, but unless you’re interested in the sociological side of the classroom this film is likely to be a 2 hour trip down memory lane.

PS Apologies for the copied & pasted synopsis; it is pretty terrible, but I couldn’t come up with another at the time. Hopefully the review section has helped to explain the narrative a little better.