The Class (Entre les Murs)

The Stub has been sorely lacking movie reviews these past few months, so a major catch-up begins with ‘The Class’…Comment at your will!

Director: Laurent Cantet

Starring: François Bégaudeau, a whole bunch of teenage schoolkids..

What’s it About? This documentary style film focuses on a particular class in a French secondary school where the kids are mostly smart asses or troublemakers from a rough suburb of Paris. It’s aim is to show us how one teacher deals with these pupils and the situations that arise between them in the classroom.

Bégaudeau takes on his class.

Bégaudeau takes on his class.

Although this movie may seem like a fly-on-the-wall peek at the traumas of teaching, it is not a real life doc, and knowing this will actually allow you to enjoy the film more. I myself came upon this film quite by accident when a few of us bought tickets for ‘Two Lovers’ only to find ourselves sitting in front of ‘The Class’ (note: always always check your ticket..imagine if we had landed in front of ‘Observe and Report’ or something). Anyhow it was our own doing so ‘The Class’ was what we had to see., and I was quite glad, it being the first French film in 21 years to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes and all..

Imagining that this is a true documentary may seem implausible, but in these days of “reality” TV and the like, we are all used to the obvious set up that is “real life” and at first, it can seem as though ‘The Class’ is another example of such entertainment. In actual fact, it is an adaptation of a book, of the same name, by François Bégaudeau, a semi-autobiography focusing on his days as a litereature teacher. Realism is instilled in the movie, however, as Bégaudeau takes on the lead role of the teacher, thereby playing himself.

We are quickly made familiar with the everyday frustrations felt by both pupils and teachers in this school, and particularly on Bégaudeau’s part, when his attempts to teach French grammar and literature is thrown back at him in the form of snide remarks and repetitive questions. The hour granted him to teach these children is wasted away as he tries in vain to create order within the classroom. The film seems to suggest that these 12 or 13 year olds are all at a crossroads where they can stick to being troublesome wasters or else make the change necessary to succeed in school and in life.

The films manages to remain largely unbiased, for although we may feel sympathy toward the teachers due to the difficulty of their profession, we are also made aware that pupils can easily become a ‘lost cause’, unwanted by the educational system when their teachers simply do not know how to deal with them.

The film treads familiar territory in its re-enactment of a troubled class, and while it may not teach you anything new, at least it makes you sit up and take notice of those problems which teachers and pupils alike face everyday. It also manages to avoid any happy-ending sentimentalities while still offering us a ray of hope in the form of some grateful students who show an interest in the subjects they are so often unwilling to study.


2 thoughts on “The Class (Entre les Murs)

  1. The realistic documentary-style approach was a problem for me. Without wishing to spoil it for anyone, it’s fair to say that the film isn’t exactly a happy experience for the majority of characters in it, and feels awfully pessimistic in tone. Maybe I was in the wrong frame of mind when I saw it or something, but for me the film was pretty depressing, something not helped by the verite style.

    It’s also a shame that this film then overshadowed the Estonian film of the same name (no idea if it got a release or not, but I saw it at the Dublin fest), which is a totally different beast but still recommended if you’re in the mood for more European schoolroom misery.

    PS This wasn’t the worst cinema mistake you could have made. I had a friend who went to see a new James Bond movie and sat through fifteen minutes of the My Little Pony movie before he realised he was in the wrong screen.

  2. Heh I’m surprised it took him that long to change screens! Perhaps My Little Pony was surprisingly entertaining..
    I never heard that there was a second movie called The Class..must check that out.

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