Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

‘The Class’ review

Life inside and outside of the classroom in a poverty-stricken Parisian neighborhood is tough, with teachers and students transcending the definitions of “good” and “bad” as they attempt to navigate their way through an inherently flawed educational system. This is the story of “The Class“, directed by Laurent Cantent, a film that feels so real I found myself checking to make sure that Netflix had not incorrectly labeled this as a drama instead of a documentary while watching.

The movie follows teacher Francois Marin and several of his students and colleagues throughout the daily difficulties of the classroom. The character of Marin is based on the life of the actor who plays him, Francios Begaudeau,  a novelist and former teacher himself. Marin struggles with his teaching philosophy, often finding himself having to choose between the styles of punishment or positive reinforcement in order to procure better results from his students.

The actors playing the students are uniquely effective because they were cast after a lengthy search that was designed to find students who could improvise during the situations in class. The exchanges between Marin and the students are realistically raw, highlighting the constant problems present in the inner-city classroom. Given these components, in addition to the three-camera filming style, the film truly manages to occupy a role larger than the genre of “drama,” giving the audience an original and highly personal view into these semi-fictitious lives.

The film begins with the welcoming of the new staff. As new teachers view their class rosters, old teachers quickly begin to sort the lists into those of “nice students” and “not nice students,” sharing tips of who “to look out for” with the new additions. This, while strikingly judgmental, seems to be a coping mechanism at a school where teachers are often at a loss with what to do with the so-called “problem students.” Teachers are frustrated as they strive to impart knowledge that often lands on uninterested or ill-equipped ears.

The students are a mix of those who truly want to do well, those who are simply disinterested and those who fall somewhere in between. Problems often arise between the students due to social and racial tensions, but they bond together when taking on “the bourgeois,” often times the teachers, with whom they associate this disconnected way of life.

The film does a great job of illustrating the tension constantly present in an educational system where finding the root of disciplinary and academic problems is ignored for the easier solution of expulsion. There is no “bad guy” in the story, but rather a flawed system that contributes to a cyclical reaction of unfortunate actions and reactions. Students are living difficult lives at home, so they are often disruptive or unsuccessful in school, which leads to teachers frequently being out of ideas of how to help. This constant battle leads to mutual anger that ends in situations that are ultimately harmful to all involved.

Though this movie is in French, it appeals to all nations and cultures, and is easily related to by anyone who has gone to a school where the necessary resources are not always available. In creating the documentary-style drama, Cantent is particularly effective in conveying her message of social change, and it is easy to see why this was nominated for an Oscar in 2009.

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