Barnard Film Committee Reviews “The Class”
“The Class,” a new French film, directed by Laurent Cantet (“Heading South,” “Time Out,” “Human Resources”) depicts a year in a multi-cultural classroom in a tough Paris neighborhood, and was the surprise winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, is France’s Academy Award nominee, was uniformly praised by the New York press, and was the Opening Night Selection of The New York Film Festival.
I saw it at the latter event recently with members of the Barnard College Alumnae Film Committee, which I chair. When Education Update asked for a review I called on my group, for I have learned from them that one person’s film is not another’s. Sometimes as I read the email reviews we send each other afterwards I wonder if we all saw the same film. Of course we have not!
“The Class” is based on former teacher François Bégaudeau’s best selling autobiographical novel, “Entre Les Murs,” also the film’s French title. He stars as the teacher, and actual Junior High School students, teachers and administrators play versions of themselves developed in workshops and in a script written for their personalities. Three cameras were rolling simultaneously to capture all angles and unguarded reactions. From the disparate viewpoints of the native French teachers and administrators and the Middle Eastern, African and Asian immigrant students conflicts inevitably emerged, just as in real life and in such schools anywhere.
And as in my film group! Despite the unanimously positive press, the extraordinary honors earned, most of us were not enthusiastic about “The Class.” Of 8, 4 were lukewarm, 2 hated it, and 2 loved it. The perceptive comments ranged from a college professor who raved: “’The Class’ is a must see for all teachers as well as anyone concerned with education today! This wonderful film shows how classroom teaching cannot be conducted in isolation from the real world that all too powerfully intrudes in students’ daily lives. No one in this film is all good or all bad—they are all just human.” to a former New York City Public School teacher who ranted, “I was appalled by the movie. As a film, it was boring. As a commentary on the French educational system today, it revealed an unfortunate combination of the worst in old-fashioned, condescending teacher nastiness, with the worst in modern curriculum dilution. The teacher wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in the tough, multiethnic New York City public school I taught in for four years. …The girl who sadly commented that she had learned nothing all year, was only too right, and the fault was not hers.”
The “in between” reviewers enjoyed the film somewhat, didn’t find it exceptional, actually a bit tedious, and couldn’t get involved with the characters whose stories were not developed enough, although for one it brought back realistic memories of the class she taught in the Bronx in 1969.
“The Class” is an important film—it tackles a vital subject and elicited strong and thoughtful reactions from us, especially our teachers. I recommend that you see it. Please tell us what you think if you do! #