Written by Francois Begaudeau

Directed by Laurent Cantet

 Francois Begaudeau


The Class



I know it’s a cliche, but once in a while a film comes along that renews my faith in the art form, and flushes away the “Adventurelands” and “Superbads,” restoring a little semblance of what an art form can do when it’s just given its head. Laurent Cantet’s film “Entre les Murs,” between the walls, released here as “The Class,” is one of those. It is now playing (briefly) at the AMC in Spokane, and I cannot urge you strongly enough to see it on the big screen. Cantet, who used to be a teacher in a Parisian high school, recreates a year in the classroom as he teaches French to a mixed bag of immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, second-generation daughters and sons of workingmen-and -women, and the occasional Chinese immigrant. They are all at the age of 13 to 15, ready to challenge the teacher and yet not without some preserved childhood memories that adults tend to know better than children.

The children we see are not the same ones who occupied the real class; Cantet, who wrote the script as well as directing it, has found the perfect actor to play the teacher – François Bégaudeau, a man whose soft voice masks an iron center. Then he has stuffed the class with every kind of teenager; the girl who’s been elected to the disciplinary board who refuses to participate and then accuses her teacher of calling her a ‘skank,’ a term of opprobrium akin to calling her a prostitute. Cantet had four cameras at work in the classroom; not a lot went on that they didn’t catch. The power of the film comes from simply watching as each class goes on; the relations between the kids, the reluctant attention they give the teacher, the ways in which the snobberires and bigotries of French society are inadvertently revealed, and yet at the same time the ways in which the teacher finds a way to support even those who otherwise would be hostile or hide. He recognizes the photos taken by one almost mute boy as being wonderfully revealing and rewards him by posting them around the room.

“The Class” takes us from the first day to the last in the year; everyone changes (a bit) and yet at the end of the year no great epiphanies have taken place. Some students have learned about the imperfect subjunctive and some have not. Some have learned how to channel their own resentments against society and some have not. Some have enjoyed the year and some have not. In a word, “The Class” is just a bit of life writ large, but what we carry away with us is a great deal more than that. “The Class” has won the Golden Palm – the top prize -- at last year’s Cannes film festival, it was nominated for an Academy Award as best foreign film, and has won a host of other awards. If there’s one film to see in the theatre this spring, it’s “The Class.”