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The Independent Critic

Francois Begaudeau, Esmeralda Ouertani, Franck Keita
Laurent Cantet;
Francois Begaudeau
Rated PG-13
est. 130 Mins on DVD;
Sony Classics
French, English LCR (Discrete Surround), Spanish (Dolby Surround)
English, Spanish
"Making of" Featurette, Commentary on Select Scenes

 "The Class" Review 
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"The Class" is not "Mr. Holland's Opus."

Co-written by its star, Francois Begaudeau, based upon his own novel and experiences as a teacher at a French school different from the one portrayed, "The Class" avoids the all too common hyper-sentimentality common in American films that devote themselves to the educational system and those who dwell within it.

Instead, "The Class" is deceptively straightforward. It is only after the film has ended that what you have seen begins to creep into your sub-consciousness and, almost against your will, you simply cannot stop thinking about the teacher and the students with whom you've spent 130 minutes of your time.

In the film, Francois Marin (Francois Begaudeau) attempts to teach a group of ethnically diverse youngsters in their mid-teens.

Sometimes, he is successful.

More often, it would seem, he merely co-exists with them.

Whereas in American films such as "Mr. Holland's Opus" and "Dangerous Minds," the teachers are challenged but, utimately, triumph because of their persistence and good will, in "The Class" director Laurent Cantet takes Begaudeau's script and plants it squarely in the realm of educational reality.

There are no fantasies here.

These teenagers are how most teenagers really are- they constantly challenge, cajole, manipulate, cause distractions, create outbursts and generally create havoc in the classroom.

Sure, there are moments where it seems Francois is breaking through.


What makes "The Class" brilliant, beyond Begaudeau's frightfully insightful script, is that the child actors in the film are, in fact, not actors- or at least they weren't until director Laurent Cantet got a hold of them. Rather, they are from Francoise Dolto Junior High, one of Paris' poorest and most diverse schools. These students were recruited into acting workshops and from this workshop cast into "The Class." These students are not playing themselves, though there are times the characters they are playing are touched by their own personalities and experiences, of course. It's this natural and humanist approach, a trademark of Cantet's filmmaking, that turns "The Class" into such a quietly brilliant film.

Winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes 2008 and a nominee for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award this year, "The Class" avoids any semblance of forced histrionics, inauthentic set-ups and hyped emotions in favor of the everyday emotions, challenges, quirks, personalities and stories of this cast of characters. Even when drama does finally occur, Cantet refuses to play up to the drama and, instead, allows the drama to unfold as it often does in real life...quietly, as if one action has a ripple effect that reaches out to those involved, then those in the circle, then to the school, the administrators and the parents. By the time the drama has reached full force, one is so fully immersed into it that it is as if we, too, are experiencing the goings on in this school and with these students.

Begaudeau, a teacher by trade, does an excellent job of portraying Francois as a well-intended yet flawed central figure working within a system that may be well intended but is most certainly flawed as it attempts to churn out those who will simply not cause trouble once they eventually leave school.

"The Class" is intriguing as both a study of this teacher and, yet, even more globally as a study of the system in which students and teacher attempt to find a balance in which both can exist.

Tech credits are solid across the board, though Cantet's usual leanings towards simplicity continue to rule here. Given the multiple layers upon which this story is taking place, the special features in "The Class" are a welcome addition, especially the available commentary during select scenes in the film.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic