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:: The Class (Entre Les Murs)

‘The Class’ may be one of the French films of the year. As well as being the winner of the prestigious Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival it was selected for France’s representative in the ‘Best Foreign Film’ category for the Oscars. That doesn’t stop it from being a good film that is severely flawed by some major problems.

Francois Begaudeau not only wrote the novel of ‘The Class’ he also wrote the script and plays the lead role of teacher, Francois Marin, a character that is largely based on him. Throughout the film we see how his different teaching approach enables him to connect with a class of ‘misfits’ in one of France’s rougher schools, but doesn’t prevent little spot fires from flaring up all throughout the year.

Going into this film the was skeptical that Begaudeau would be able to pull off a good enough performance to make the film watchable. How wrong was I? He is a natural actor and puts in a performance that would be worthy of any Oscar. He is well backed up by a cast made up of “nobodies” who make this film seem more like a fly-on-the-wall documentary rather than a scripted feature film.

Unfortunately it is the script that both makes and breaks ‘The Class’. While the dialogue is so natural it has to be heard to be believed, it also fails on a number of levels. There is not enough background information given to the audience about the character of Francois Marin and therefore it is hard to have any feelings for him or to even understand where he comes from. While both Begaudeau and director, Laurent Cantet say this is because they didn’t want to show the audience anything outside the relationship between teacher and the students, this theory falls flat on its face due to the fact that we do see the teacher talking to colleagues in the staffroom, discussions that the students definitely don’t have access to.

These discussions with his colleagues also open up more problems. As one scene revolves around the teachers talking about one student whose mother may possibly be deported, a sad moment in the film as this is one of the school’s most promising students. Unfortunately the subject is never talked about again and we don’t ever get to learn what happened to the student’s mother… surely the teacher would have found out what happened.

‘The Class’ consists of some terrific acting performances but runs slightly over time and has a script that both thrills and frustrates at the same time.