Monday 23 March 2009

The Class (Entre Les Murs)

French school-set movies are practically becoming a sub-genre. Laurent Cantet’s drama, based on François Bégeaudeau’s book and starring Bégeaudeau, ranks as one of the best. The film couldn’t be more different from Christophe Honore’s La Belle Personne, which, though utterly charming, tended to place the emphasis on its photogenic students’ and teachers’ sentimental travails rather than their academic life. What I loved about Cantet’s film is its singularity of focus: no scenes outside of the school, very limited information about the characters’ private lives (no teacher/pupil or even pupil/pupil romances, thank Christ). I’ve never seen a film that’s so attuned to the complexities of classroom dynamics as this one: the shifts in power, the failures in communication, the conflicts and moments of complicity, the insights and joys. "Issues" of race, class, identity, religion, and nation emerge naturally, through a series of superbly realistic and brilliantly acted real-time scenes. But this strikes me, mainly, as a film about language, which views the classroom as a dialogic space where all kinds of communications take place. Full of feeling and tension, this is a beautiful and engrossing film.

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