My oh my, how American films could take a note from the French. This Oscar-nominated wonder has no drastic revelation in teaching dangerous minds, nor does it transform the poor kids from thugs to freedom writers, and it sure as hell doesn’t have dead poets standing on top of desks. Simply put: The Class is the best classroom film I’ve ever seen.
A few years ago, François Bégaudeau wrote an autobiographical novel based on his time as a middle school French teacher in a suburb outside of Paris. Now, Bégaudeau essentially plays himself in director Laurent Cantent’s brilliant film.
The Class plays like a documentary, which is a testament to its genuine “fly-on-the-wall” feel. As another year begins, François Marin (Bégaudeau) prepares himself for a new patch of little hellions. Throughout the film, we follow one class through its ups and downs. A believe me, you’re in for an emotional rollercoaster.
One of the great things I first liked about the film was how Marin was presented. He’s a noble teacher with a few years under his belt, he tries hard to teach things he clearly thinks aren’t necessary, but he’s far from a saint. Much of the movie shows how his frustration (and his fellow colleagues) can sometimes get the better of him. Whether it’s a sneer or a nasty remark, Marin isn’t immune of being annoyed.
As for the kids, they are a revelation in film acting. During the credits, I found out the most of the character’s names matched that of the real actor. So my first assumption was that these kids were playing exaggerated versions of themselves. I was wrong. They are all professional and rather remarkable actors. They’re never over the top, never unreal, but rather, totally authentic.
All of the film takes place within the school, and the majority of the scenes are constructed in Marin’s classroom. But as the extended classroom discussions continue, you’re never bored. The razor sharp dialogue, along with some incredible camera work, make you feel like you’re just another student.
There’s not enough time to get into each individual character, or to talk about the problems they incur, but each highlighted character is presented wonderfully. When they get their moment to shine, it is never overstated, it’s just simply real. Most people will enjoy the teachings Marin tries to embed in his pupils’ heads. Not for their scholastic merit, but because of how silly they seem. I couldn’t agree with Roger Ebert more, who in his review of the film said, “I never learned to diagram a sentence, yet I have made my living by writing and speaking. You learn a language by listening and speaking. You learn how to write by reading. It's not an abstraction.”
The Class has purpose. It makes you think on a few different points, all while being unrelentingly enjoyable. It justly won the Palme d’Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, which leaves just one question. I’ve now seen Waltz with Bashir and The Class, both of which were heavily favored to win the Oscar last month for best foreign film. But in the night’s biggest upset, a movie no one ever heard of stole the prize. So the question is: what the hell is this Departures movie? As for The Class: A+