A dedicated schoolteacher, a tough recalcitrant class - you immediately expect one of those sententious Mr Chips-style school dramas like Dangerous Minds where a bunch of young delinquents are brought to see the light, appreciate Shakespeare - and probably win the big match to boot.
Well, The Class is no such animal. This is an authentic inner-city school experience right down to the smell of chalk dust. Francois Begaudeau, the film’s star, co-screenwriter and author of the book it’s adapted from, taught for years in a Paris state school and his performance - his screen-acting debut - feels effortlessly convincing.
The multi-ethnic pupils, all non-professionals, are genuine schoolkids, and they’re just as individual as you’d expect. Not since Bertrand avernier’s 1999 Ca Commence Aujourd’hui have we seen a school this real on screen.
As the film’s French title, Entre Les Murs (Between The Walls), implies, we rarely move outside the classroom. The action covers a year, during which Francois tries to inspire his mixed bag of adolescents with a feeling for French language and literature.
A few respond, most don’t, but he never gives up. Laurent Cantet had his first international success with 1999’s Ressources Humaines, set in a factory beset by industrial unrest, and already there he showed a knack for depicting everyday life with subtlety.
Like the earlier film’s workplace, The Class shows us a microcosm of society, but never tries to fob us off with easy answers. At last year’s Cannes the jury were unanimous in awarding it the festival’s top prize. Some honour considering the competition.
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Partially improvised, using a real (ex-)teacher and real schoolkids in note-perfect performances, Cantet’s film recreates life in a tough inner-city school with breathtaking authenticity.