The Class (Laurent Cantet) 2008

The trailer of The Class will have to go down as one of the worst in many years. I remember me and my brother watching the trailer before some movie and saying “Sounds interesting, but the trailer makes it look like one of the blandest movies of all time”. None of the scenes really had any memorable lines or actions and the whole thing came off as incredibly mediocre.

Well The Class is not mediocre. In fact, far from it. I think the trailer is so misleading because the movie itself is so authentic and real. This movie does not have a pretension of being an uber schmaltzy or “inspirational” school movie like Dead Poets Society, Stand and Deliver, Freedom Writers and on and on and on. It certainly doesn’t have any pretension of coming from “the streets” like Dangerous Minds (ugh) or again, Freedom Writers.

The Class is based on a book from a former teacher and the actor playing said teacher: Francois Begaudeau. The plot, simply put, is about a semester in a French public school. Mr. Marin is the teacher of Junior High French of a diverse class. As I said before there is no overdone melodrama in the plot like gangs in the school or any overdone inspirational crap. Nor is there any witty quips or zinger jokes for the trailer. There is good humor to be had, but most of it is subtle and slow moving. For instance, there is a teacher conference where they are having a debate on how to keep discipline in the school and one of the teachers interrupt for a more “important matter” which is the unfair price hike for coffee in the teacher’s lounge.

Mr. Marin does not have to deal with gang influence or teenage pregnancy or any of that. He just has the difficult task of getting normal/average kids to give a crap about anything he has to say. Marin is almost a ringmaster in a circus. In one instance, Marin is trying to teach about imperfect subjunctives and he has to deal with 15 different tangents dealing from why does he use English names for his examples, what is the point of learning this, what is wrong with using slang, is Marin a homosexual and so on. The task of getting them to do homework is like pulling teeth. When Marin is approached by a history teacher asking if he will teach the kids Voltaire (to synch up with his history lesson) Marin gives a weary response of “its not in their year”. Marin knows its hard enough to get them to read ANYTHING let alone Voltaire. Its not that there aren’t smart kids in his class: there are many. But there are also students on the lower end of the spectrum and Marin knows they are all in the same boat together. There were some concerns going in that real life teacher Begaudeau would not be a good fit as an actor in this movie but he holds his own and is actually pretty charming. The rest of the child actors also do a good job with their roles.

The conflicts are small like dealing with discipline and getting kids inspired to do small creative efforts. I guess if there is one major event is is Marin trying to work with a trouble student in Soluymane (I screwed up the spelling). There is a blow up where Marin insults a few students and Soluymane in turns blows up. The issue comes up of whether or not to expel him. There is an argument for both sides. He has been a problem child for years and one more warning wont do him any good. On the other hand, expulsion condemns him to a worse life. There is no right or wrong answer, only the one given by the school board. In the end life goes on: one class leaves another one enters. Maybe Marin can be of some use to somebody. While there isn’t any grand speeches or dramatic events, the movie just quietly takes you in. I know I’ve been rambling but I have seen so many schmaltzy and over the top school movies, that it is such a breath of fresh air to have a movie that is so genuine. There is not one moment where I thought it wasn’t realistic or overly melodramatic. I can now understand the critical praise of this movie. The Class is realistic but still interesting and entertaining.

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