Cantet spent months auditing Bégaudeau's classes and ended-up casting many of the students as themselves in the film. Like many of its egregious American counterparts (Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers, to name a few), Cantet has outfitted Bégaudeau with a melting pot of cultural and racial variants to contend with, including a goth and a smart Asian kid. Unlike those films, however, there is no effort to pigeonhole these identities, nor is there any effort to sanctify François. Though it garners much of its action through simple debate, one of the film's central dramas concerns François accusing two of his students of "acting like skanks." The teacher never becomes characterized as sinner or saint, and it reveals a great deal of depth in Cantet's material.
Cantet keeps the camera on a tight leash, rarely venturing outside Bégaudeau's classroom. The little history we are given about the students is delivered in boyish braggadocio, excited chatter, and whispered rumors. At one point, a gaggle of Bégaudeau's students bully the teacher by berating him about a popular rumor that he's gay. Thanks to Cantet's unrelenting focus, we are never told if Bégaudeau is gay, a Sarkozy supporter, or has a German granduncle who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Later on, it's the violent outburst of one of François' more outspoken students that becomes a concern, prompting a meeting over possible expulsion. Accompanied by a mother who can speak only scattered French phrases, the student becomes the lynchpin of the movie when it is argued whether or not he should be kicked out of the school. This orderly tribunal allows for high-minded debate between François and his colleagues, but the teacher gets the business from his students. Hopelessly unable to find common ground, Bégaudeau and his fiery teens allow for one of the more simple and engaging looks at the victories and turmoils of democracy to ever be put on the screen.
Though its ideas on the political majority prove fascinating and hugely entertaining, it's ultimately the film's clashing concern over education that elevates The Class from simple intrigue to a work of fervent discourse. Bégaudeau attempts to teach the students through classical texts, including The Diary of Anne Frank, but he is consistently overcome by a rambunctious, Internet-educated culture. So weak is Bégaudeau's own confidence in classical teaching that when one of his more sassy students quotes Plato's Republic, he is completely dumbfounded. Similar is Cantet's reaction to the hyper-modern, surprisingly well-rounded discussions that the kids often initiate, discussions in which François is scrambling simply to keep up. It begs the question: What shall we do if the teachers are the ones who need a better education?
Aka Entre les murs.
The heads of the class.
Run time: 128 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 24th September 2008
Box Office USA: $3.6M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Production compaines: Eesti Televisioon
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Fresh: 144 Rotten: 6
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Director: Laurent Cantet
Starring: Vallo Kirs as Kaspar, Pärt Uusberg as Joosep, Lauri Pedaja as Anders, Paula Solvak as Thea, Mikk Mägi as Paul, Riina Ries as Riina, Joonas Paas as Toomas, Kadi Metsla as Kati, Triin Tenso as Kerli, Virgo Ernits as Tiit, Karl Sakrits as Olav