Mar 3, 2009

The Class [15]

Dir: Laurent Cantet
Cantet’s Palme D’Or winner is not the easiest proposition. Based on the memoirs of young teacher François Bégaudeau (who plays himself) and featuring a cast of non-actors, each playing themselves (or, at least, characters that share their names) it’s a low key, documentary style film, covering a school year in the life of one of Bégaudeau’s French classes.

For the film’s first 75 minutes or so there is little in the way of a plot, we simply live with this class, but only when they are in class. If there’s one thing that this film does truly capture it’s what it feels like being in a classroom. In most school based movies classes take up very little screentime, even a film like Dangerous Minds, in which the classes are very important to the plot, rarely dwells on them for more than five minutes at a time, but The Class often seems to unfold in real time, with discussions (and digressions) arising from the lessons allowed to play out at length, and while this is admirably realistic it can also become a bit dull.

Much of the film is evidently unscripted, and in these sections there’s a strong back and forth between Bégaudeau and the kids, but the scripted sections of the film are very noticeable, and decidedly stilted by comparison. In the film’s last act a rather generic plot begins to intrude, and it feels false, leading to more heavily scripted exchanges and a sense of contrivance that is missing from the rest of the film.

Cantet’s camera is unobtrusive, and he achieves a documentary feel without leaning on the faddish and annoying shaky-cam style that is so in vogue. Instead he moves smoothly around the classroom, capturing small true moments, it’s the classroom scenes that feel most natural, and that end up working best.

François Bégaudeau makes for engaing company, a good thing because we are essentially marooned with him in the school for just over two hours, he is the kind of teacher you wish you’d had; inventive, engaged and interested in making sure that all his students meet their full potential. However he’s the only really rounded character, the kids are really just types, and it’s a shame that Cantet and Bégaudeau never really explore any of them in any great depth.

The Class is by no means a bad film, indeed there are sequences that truly suck you in, but its hardly worthy of the hype attendant to a Palme D’Or winner and a mainstream audience will find it rather dull and drawn out.

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