The Review - AT THE MOVIES with DAN CARRIER Published: 26 February 2009
Teacher Francois tackles another day in the classroom and the social complexities of modern Paris
A Parisian school drama: it’s full marks for La Classe
Directed by Laurent Cantet
THIS remarkable film is fictional – but you wouldn’t know it from the incredible screenplay and first-rate performances.
It follows in a vein of documentaries about the French education system and is similar in style and message to the 2002 film Etre et Avoir which followed the trials and tribulations of a mixed-age class in a small rural school.
While observing the little people growing up and learning over a year was beautiful, The Class offers a more challenging commentary on what we expect from our schools.
These pupils from a Parisian secondary are from a wholly different age group and socioeconomic background.
The film considers concepts of parental responsibility, immigration, French as a second language and simply trying to find your feet as a teenager.
Teacher Francois (François Bégaudeau) has much to deal with: his pupils are not achieving academically and face a series of social problems. But while British teachers are often expected to be social workers, Francois and his colleagues try to draw a strict line over what they are prepared to do – they are there to teach, not take on the social ills of a nation.
In his class, the multi-cultural make-up of Paris today leads to clashes in cultures and attitudes, with heated discussions on race, identity and discipline.
Francois is a great lead. Charismatic but flawed, he deals with a large group of young people with individual growing pains.
One shaft of the plot focuses on the errant behaviour of a troubled pupil from Mali called Souleymane (an incredibly believable performance from young actor Franck Keita). His reactions to discipline and his teachers’ attempts to help him learn took me back to my own school days.
Strong supporting roles from two young women in the class – the aggressive Esmeralda (Esméralda Ouertani) and her sidekick, the smart but uncommunicative Khoumba (Rachel Régulier) – add further weight to a fascinating couple of hours.
Cantet chose to use a real school and real pupils and teachers. Their performances won him the top prize at Cannes last year.