The Class (2008)

Dir. Laurent Cantet

Mitchell will probably want to see this, but I have a hard time gauging if he would like this. Penny, Grace, Kevin, Tony and Chris would be interested in this. (Everyone else could probably skip this.) If any of you will have the same problems as I did (and there’s a good chance that you may), then you could probably skip this. (More later.) In some ways I just didn’t get this film, so I can’t really say if it’s a good or not. This film got a metacritic score of 92, the third highest last year (behind Wall-E and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days)

The film is about an inner city teacher in France and the class he teaches. Many of the students are immigrants and probably from the lower class.

Sometimes foreign films work despite the lack of cultural understanding on the viewers’ part; other times this lack of understanding hinders a full appreciation of the film, and that’s what happened to me in this film. There were many scenes where I couldn’t tell if the character’s behavior was unbelievable or this was the way students and teachers behaved in France. For example, there’s a level of respect that the teacher (and the school) requires of students–standing when teachers enter a room–that I think would be tough to achieve in some US schools. There were also some moments where the students were sharing what they were ashamed of. I just couldn’t see the kids opening up like that, not in the way they did, unless they had a real strong rapport with the teacher (which didn’t seem to be the case for me–but maybe for a French viewer the rapport would have be evident). To make matters worse, there is a lot cross-talk, so knowing who said what was difficult via subtitles and the teacher’s subject was French. These were significant barriers for me.

Besides not being able to judge the level of realism in the film, I also think I missed a lot of socio-political messages and themes in the film. The movie definitely felt like a critique on the France school system–or at least a chronicle of the challenges facing the French public school system.

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