The Class

Posted January 29, 2009 in Film

A patient wedge of French verité cinema, François Bégaudeau’s film is based on his loosely autobiographical novel, and stars him as a hapless and flawed middle school teacher named, bien sûr, François. His roughneck Parisian class is riotously diverse and nearly all first or second generation immigrants from Africa, Asia, and the Gulf States—it’d give Mitt Romney more indigestion than an undercooked cassoulet—which isn’t the source of their hazing of their fecklessly ill-prepared literature teacher (they’re middle-schoolers), but it sure can turn a sensitive spark into a serious blaze. Directed by Laurent Cantet, the drama unfolds with the pace and tone of a nature show. Like watching exotic cats hunt unattractive prey, you’re on neither team’s side—at least, not for long. To the film’s credit, François is no Robin Williams; we’re never in threat of saccharine uplift. Though we never see him off-campus, we’re certain François doesn’t go home and brainstorm ways to connect with and inspire his class. If he takes his work home with him at all, he’s apt to see it as misery best washed away with a strong Merlot. The film’s cathartic moment is when he admits he sometimes hates his students. Cantet doesn’t give the plot enough momentum for The Class’ 128-minute running time, which is excruciating, but more often than not the half-pleasurable, squirming out of your skin discomfort of watching the class shrewdly (and cruelly) test his boundaries and expose him as a most human mess of a teacher: concerned with popularity, over-strict to mask his insecurities, and only half-listening to their opinions, only a fraction of which they might even mean. (Amy Nicholson)


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