Friday, January 30, 2009

One Class you do not want to miss

This was published in the Volume 69, Issue 20, Feb. 5-11, 2009 issue of the Fulcrum. —D.D.

Entre Les Murs (Lauren Cantet, 2008)

LAUREN CANTET'S THE CLASS, winner of the Palme d'Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, is an engrossingly entertaining classroom drama. Written by François Bégaudeau and based on his semi-autobiographical novel Entre Les Murs. The line between documentary and fiction in The Class is often blurred. François Bégaudeau, autobiographical performance as the teacher, and the junior high students, all non-professional actors, bring an unmatched authenticity to their roles.Based on his own experiences, Bégaudeau's screenplay has a real life ear for classroom chatter and dynamics. His character is firm, charming and understanding and his outgoing approach, he ask the students to write up self-portraits, tries to bring out the inner-self of his students. The students are seen solely in the classroom and during recess but through their reflections, attitudes, style, appearance and clothing emerge three-dimensional characters. The students vary from being are smart, soft-spoken, ignorant, rude, contemptuous and aggressive. Consisting largely of foreigners they represent the country multi-ethnicity. Begaudeau struggles as he tries to teach them over a year. Begaudeau’s performance is endearing, as his persistence and hope that he can honestly help his students and change their lives is laudably idealistic. This idealism forces him to confront his moral standards. He has to choose between potential classroom hardships and overreaching. The films deep belief in the power of teaching comes through in teacher meetings where they express their concern and argue the multifaceted consequences of their decisions. Cantet’s direction sits you down within the classroom through his use of the steadicam he is able to close up each student and their peculiarities. His zooms are slight and perfectly used to increase the size of the speaker in the frame making everything more personal. The original French title Entre les Murs, an appropriate English translation would be Between the Walls is more appropriate as Cantet’s starts and ends his scenes in empty rooms. Focusing on the setting and its temporality with the foreseeable future when there will be a whole new set of student in between those walls. This is one class you do not want to miss.

In French with English subtitles.

—David Davidson

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