The Class (Entre les murs)
The Palm D’or awarded at the Cannes Film Festival each year is a precarious award. Sometimes they get things right, sometimes they don’t. For example: it was awarded to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction in a year when even the Oscars couldn’t pull it’s own head out of its ass. But some years, it acts as childish as the Emmy’s, throwing a bone to movies like Fahrenheit 9/11. Ugh. However, it seems the 2008 festival got it right when it recognized Laurent Cantet’s The Class with the highest honor awarded at the festival (small tidbit: it’s the first French film in twenty one years to be honored so).
This Oscar-nominated story is based on the novel by the same name written by François Bégaudeau (who also adapted his own novel for the screen). It’s semi-autobiographical and if it had another point besides pointing out the failures of the French school system, it’s unclear what it was. Don’t let this deter you, but the majority of the two hour running time is spent in a single classroom. It focuses on dialogue between teacher Mr. Marin (played by the novel’s author François Bégaudeau) and his unruly, under-privilaged class made up of multi-racial, inner-city kids (most of these kids play themselves). Tensions run high as Mr. Marin tries to wake these kids up and save them from the poverty that will eventually plague the rest of their lives if they continue to under-achieve as their fellow classmates encourage. Major plot points revolve around Souleyman, a troubled native of Mali who rages against the machine only to his own detriment.
As an inspirational teacher flick, The Class is refreshing. It’s not the average movie that Hamlet 2 parodied. The class doesn’t come together to overcome some sort of racial boundary, or funding issue. The troubled kids weren’t young people yearning to learn but needed a teacher who ‘got them’ to break through their rough exterior. It’s a simple docu-drama that sheds a little light on some serious issues. This unusually competent film comes from French director Laurent Cantet who has won a plethora of awards for his work on The Class and successful projects. The cast is remarkable, especially considering that it’s made up mostly of inexperienced, child actors.
It’s difficult to walk away from The Class with a quantifiable lesson learned. It poses more questions than it answers. This may deter some as the film avoids the orthodox patterns of building suspense, climax, and let down. But if you’re looking for a piece that’s brimming with psychological drama, and makes you think more than most films in theatres right now, The Class will provide you with more than a little mind candy. Watch out for Cantet’s future projects, as he has effectively established himself as a force to be reckoned with on the film scene.