Friday, August 21, 2009

The Class: Grade C

The Class (2008)
François Bégaudeau (also wrote); Director Laurent Cantet. (French, Subtitled)

The French title is « Entre les murs », literally, “Between the walls,” a more appropriate title for this story of teacher of French in a suburban Parisian junior high school (students 13 and 14 years old). It is a docudrama, almost a documentary, of one academic year as professor Marin (Begaudeau) attempts to teach grammar and poetry to unruly, inattentive, and uninterested students. There are teachers’ meetings, PTA meetings, trips to the principal’s office, and all the ordinary events you would expect. There is a very slight story about a particularly disruptive young man who eventually gets kicked out of class. Other than that, nothing unusual happens. The movie is too long and too slow.

The strength of the movie is the interesting and genuine portrayals of the students (played by actual students, not actors, and largely unscripted), and of the teacher-student interaction. Few of us can remember what it was like inside a junior high classroom and it is impossible to get inside today unless you are the teacher. So this does give an authentic glimpse “between the walls” of that hallowed chamber. What goes on in there however is more depressing than enlightening. The students are justifiably uninterested in the imperfect subjunctive and the teacher is unable to connect grammar to life, so everybody is, predictably, frustrated.

As a lifelong teacher of young adults myself, the emotions are too close to home. I didn’t find it enjoyable or useful to glorify the frustration of trying to teach poetry to a stone. Not that I wanted yet another Stand and Deliver, but the upside of teaching was almost completely absent, leaving only “le bummer.” It’s a well-made picture and might be interesting to non-teachers who wonder what goes on entre les murs.

No comments:

Post a Comment