By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2008 OPENS WITH 'THE CLASS' (I)  Send This Review to a Friend

There couldn’t have been a better choice for the opening of the 2008 New York Film Festival than “The Class.” The new French import directed by Laurent Cantet is unusually special and packed with dialogue and sparring relationships that provide insight into the problems of educating an ethnic mix at a high school in a tough northern area of Paris. The film is based on the novel “Entre les murs” by François Bégaudeau, who has co-written the screenplay with Cantet and Robin Campillo. What’s more, Bégaudeau plays himself as the teacher in charge of the turbulent class.

The film reflects his own experiences as a teacher, as did the book, and the setup that Canet uses is part performance, part improvisation. A broad array of students are cast as participants, and others in the film include various teachers and administrative personal. We are witness to an entire term being played out from the first day through the last.

The teachers meet to discuss the problems that arise at the school, and student representatives are sometimes included. Little by little we get a handle on disciplinary problems that stem from the lives of students outside the school. How to handle such problems becomes more significant than just keeping order. Expelling someone could alter a life. The pressure on a teacher is also reflected, and we see how easy it is for a teacher to lose his cool and deliver an outburst with unexpected ramifications.

There is excitement in watching how students seize the opportunity to learn and the methods by which a dedicated teacher tries to reach even the most difficult ones. When there is a breakthrough, one can take great pleasure. We also observe how, with different cultural and racial backgrounds, the frame of reference can differ vastly between teacher and student, as well as among the students themselves.

Events bring mounting tension as pressing problems must be resolved. Although the dynamics are specific to this school, one could project the situation onto schools in other cities and other countries. One comes away from “The Class” with an appreciation of how great the challenge of education can be, and how much adjustment is needed to reach students and bring out their unrealized potential. “The Class” is among the best films of 2008. A Sony Pictures Classics release.


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