The Class Laurent Cantet

The Class Laurent Cantet
Halfway through The Class, I had to stop and remind myself that I was watching a drama, not a documentary. So realistic is the interaction between teacher François Marin (François Bégaudeau, in real life)and his class of inner city Parisian teenagers that I had to wonder. It turns out that The Classis based on François' largely autobiographical novel about a year in the life of a tough, racially mixed high school. There's a troubled, angry boy whose tantrums could force his family to send him back to impoverished Mali. There's a smart Chinese kid whose parents aren't legally in the country, as well as an Arab girl who constantly challenges the teacher. François' challenge is not only to teach his students French grammar and literature but to maintain discipline and uphold respect. An experienced teacher, François can give-and-take with his rowdy kids, but even he can't handle the stress by year's end, when tempers flare. Don't expect To Sir With Love, Stand and Deliveror Dangerous Minds, stories where an outside teacher inspires a class of inner city kids. The Classis more complex, less linear and doesn't rely on the typical three-act dramatic structure, which takes a little getting used to. Though I admired the artistry of this film, its documentary approach kept me at a distance from the characters. Oddly enough, what pulled me into the film was the superb 40-minute documentary on this DVD explaining how director Laurent Cantet spent a year work shopping situations with his young actors to arrive at a shooting script. He also employed three cameras during the filming, an unusual practice, but one that captured the spontaneity of a real classroom where students speak on top of each other. On this DVD, François and Cantet also dissect two sequences in the film, and it is fascinating to watch. These bonus features (rare for any foreign film) made me appreciate the movie even more. The Class high marks. (Sony)