February 19, 2009


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The Class (PG-13)
A language arts teacher experiences bang-your-head-against-a-wall levels of frustration with teaching his classroom full of 14- and 15-year-olds in the French-language film The Class.

Francois Marin (Francois Begaudeau) is charged with teaching a class full of students who are varying levels of not interested in learning and varying levels of constantly pissed off. These students come from a variety of differing ethnic backgrounds and, this being France, this means that they have a variety of kinds of chips on their shoulder about Mr. Marin, the school, each other and the “bourgeois” French society that they think Marin’s grammar and literature education belongs to. And, because they’re teenagers, they have quick tempers and a seemingly ingrained dislike and distain for, well, everything.

Is Marin a perfect teacher? Do his students stand, Dead Poets Society-style, on their desks to salute him? No. In fact some of them hate him at some points — for reasons both sort-of justified and not. He is, we might conclude by the end of the movie, a good teacher and, even more importantly, one who has not let the difficulty of the situation lead him to give up. He still tries, he still cares. The movie takes you back and forth between the classroom and the teachers’ lounge and you feel the different kinds of pressure that teachers deal with — from parents, students and each other. Through Marin, we can see perfectly the paradox of being a teacher. On the one hand, society says teaching is a deeply important job and education may represent for many of the students the only path to a better life. But on the other hand, parents, administrators and students seem preliminarily armed for battle with their specific teachers, determined to run them down. And, at times, these crushing forces succeed. We see one teacher absolutely lose it in the teachers’ lounge; he seems completely broken by the struggle. Even Marin can’t always keep his cool. But then at other times, there seem to be cracks of light, rays of hope that some of what he’s doing is having an impression on his students.

In a movie of unknowns, it’s the characters more than the actors that are familiar to us. I wanted more of this story because I know teachers like Marin and remember myself and my classmates at that age. These genuine performances shine through the double language barrier of the French spoken dialogue and the shaky English translation (particularly during scenes where one specific word causes controversy, I would have liked to have a better understanding of the meaning behind some of the dialogue).

Considering a career in teaching? Considering writing a terse note to your kid’s teacher? The Class is required viewing for those with even a crumb of interest in the education system. A

Rated PG-13 for language. Directed Laurent Cantet and written by Francois Begaudeau, Robin Campillo and Laurent Cantet, The Class is two hours and nine minutes and is distributed in limited release by Sony Pictures.