Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Class

Laurent Cantet's "The Class" is a fascinating achievement. François Bégaudeau, a real schoolteacher who I believe taught the very high schoolers of the film, wrote a book about his experiences and has adapted into a film that is joyous and quite excellent, but flawed as well. He plays himself, well, with a different name. He's a teacher that seems better to have than he is. He's sarcastic and pushing, or charismatic and supportive, depending on your outlook. To tell you the truth, he does receive a lot of flak throughout the film, but he somewhat overdoes it when it comes to his teaching.

Overall, Bégaudeau is fantastic, and he has a sort of underlying, irresistible charm that draws you in and keeps you in. His supporting cast, all students that the man himself has taught, are also excellent, managing to fill and expand on the vague schoolchildren that we have seen over and over again in cinema. In this case, the children are more interesting than most of the teachers. I believe this may have been put in to make the viewer think twice about what they know, but it also holds the film back from its full potential.

Like a real schoolday, "The Class" has its hardships. The teachers of other subjects seemed to be forlorn types that haven't been gotten around to in the rounding process. Perhaps Bégaudeau didn't know his colleagues that well, or something, but I need a little more here. Also, I wanted to get to know the rest of the class like I got to know some, like the pair of class representatives that function as objects of anger for Bégaudeau, who flips and indirectly calls them "skanks." Or Souleymane, the troubled and undernourished teen who breaks down and blows up. He's another inhibitor, since sends the third act into a bit of a drag. Cantet looks to only profile a few, but perhaps he missed stories that could have struck the camera harder. However, do I question the film's setup and nonlinear approach? Non. Do I think the film should have triumphed "Gomorrah," a film of the same style of unfocused narrative, to win Cannes' coveted Palme D'Or? Non again. Alas, it's a bit overrated. But, for all its flaws, "The Class" is somewhat of a delight, a quieter flame driven by those who learn, although they would like to admit otherwise. A-

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