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  The Class

Starring: François Bégaudeau, Nassim Amrabt, Laura Baquela, Damien Gomes

Directed by: Laurent Cantet

Produced by: Caroline Benjo, Carole Scotta
Written by: François Bégaudeau, Robin Campillo, Laurent Cantent

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

As seen at AFI Fest 2008:

     The Class, winner of the 2008 Palm d’Or, may not be as good as the previous champion—the Romanian abortion-drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days—but few films are. Rest assured: The Class is an intense, involving exercise in cinema verite full of terrific performances and thought-provoking social commentary. It is deserving of its already-stellar reputation.

     The Class’ premise is simple: François (François Bégaudeau, playing himself in a screenplay he co-adapted from his book) is a teacher at a public high-school outside Paris that is full of troubled students, nearly all of whom are the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. The film takes place over a year and chronicles the daily problems of François' French class, which is so rowdy and unfocused due to its members' conflicting ethnicities and hardship-filled home-lives that it rarely proves able of cracking a book for more than 10 minutes at a time.

     While the story may seem dull on paper, it is riveting on celluloid. In the vein of the nouvelle vague filmmakers who put his country on the map in the 1950s and '60s, director Laurent Cantet employs a minimalistic fly-on-the-wall approach, capturing the raw intensity of the situations that arise with bare finesse. François' class is constantly tested: one boy misbehaves repeatedly but the school is afraid to punish him because his father will send him back to his African homeland if he is expelled, two girls sit in on the grading-process as student representatives (common in France) and then inappropriately gossip about the dismissive things teachers say about students, François gets so flustered he calls said girls "skanks," et cetera, et cetera. All the while, Cantet never tries to provide easy relief for his audience; he is committed to making viewers feel the conflict of each moment.

     Cantet's documentary-like style does particular justice to two of the film's main goals. Firstly, it serves as a testament to just how severe the problems shown in the film are for French teachers. Conflicted youths in the public education system are prominently discussed in French politics—especially especially with a record-high, alienated immigrant-population—and the film's intense depiction of the issue’s enormity very well may impact future legislative decisions. Secondly, said intensity highlights how good Bégaudeau is his (apparently very personal) role. There's a scene in which he merely sits and thinks following a stubborn and frustrating after-class conversation with a student who isn't applying herself that provides one of the most powerful silent moments I’ve seen in any recent film.

     The Class will not only be of interest to the French; adventurous American moviegoers will find plenty to latch onto as well. The movie doesn't lack anything that a good domestic inspirational-teacher movie like Freedom Writers boasts; the themes about the uniqueness of teacher-student relationships, finding one's identity in adolescence, and using education to escape from real-world problems are all present, just not as obvious or as preachy. (This is a good thing.) The Class essentially tells a familiar story, but it does so exceptionally well by stripping its style down to the essentials and crafting thoughtful socio-political messages. Cheers to Cantet, Bégaudeau, and co-writer Robin Campillo for making a movie that is both intelligent and entertaining.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 11.7.2008

Screened on: 11.2.2008 at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywod, CA.


The Class is rated PG-13 and runs 129 minutes.

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