"The Class" is about a dedicated teacher, Francois Marin (played by Francois Begaudeau), in an inner city Parisian middle school. Lead actor Begaudeau has an interesting background; he was in a punk rock band and was a writer before becoming a teacher. He turned his experiences teaching into a book, "Entre Les Murs" (Between these Walls), which was then loosely adapted into "The Class." In the film, we follow Francois as he teaches a class of 25 students during the school year. The movie made news when it became the first French film to win the coveted Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in over 20 years.
Francois' teaching style is unusual, at least for American audiences; he encourages his students to ask questions, even if it takes them off the main topic. So a lesson on subjugating French verbs can quickly lead to a discussion of slang and a variety of topics - some quite unexpected. Whether his style is effective is questionable. Plus, Francois is often just barely in control of his class, although he seems more in control than some of the other teachers. However, regardless of effectiveness, his style does make for a fascinating movie. Francois' strives to make his lessons applicable to the lives' of his students in his highly multi-cultural mostly lower income class. He struggles to understand his students and their diverse backgrounds as he attempts to teach them. How can he teach French to a bunch of students who openly say that they aren't French? That is part of Francois' dilemma.
The plot of "The Class" is nothing earth-shattering - just typical things one could observe in any classroom. What sells the movie is its tremendous realism. Begaudeau is extraordinary as the lead teacher; he's refreshingly human. He isn't portrayed as a hero who rescues his students and inspires them; this isn't "Lean on Me" or "Stand and Deliver." As good as Begaudeau is, the movie is stolen by the nonprofessional young actors. I liked that the teens had problems but weren't presented as thugs - this isn't "The Asphalt Jungle." These teens are more complicated than that. The young actors participated in months of workshops with Begaudeau and director Laurent Cantet, during which the specific situations that occur in the movie were improved. Thus, the actors themselves contributed to the script, which helps explain the degree of realism. The movie feels like a documentary, and we feel like voyeurs peeking into their space - between their walls. Whether you like the way that Francois teaches of not and whether you like these kids or not, "The Class" is an enlightening, entertaining film.