' Cinema Romantico: The Class

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Class

Even now, so many years later, I can remember the feeling of being inside a high school or middle school room of a class I didn't like, with perhaps a teacher I didn't particularly care for (Mrs. Maxwell - I hate her to this day and will still hate her when I'm dead and buried), and having that overwhelming sensation of being trapped. The walls truly do feel as if they are closing in all around you, minute by minute. You looked at the clock 15 minutes ago but now you're looking again and only 2 minutes have passed! How is this possible?! Now you feel like you're suffocating. You're supposed to be learning but how can you learn when you just want to GET OUT!!!

I have never seen a movie that has captured this feeling with more authenticity than Laurent Cantet's 2008 French film "The Class". The claustrophobia you will feel is real. It will make you squirm. Yet, at times it feels alive in a better way, a vividness of a teacher at a school for low income students, pushed to his limit nearly every day, genuinely trying to reach this room of kids before him and sometimes finding luck and sometimes not so much.

The teacher is Mr. Marin (Francois Begaudeau, who also wrote the book on which the film is based). The class is, of course, varied. There is Souleymane (Franck Keita), intelligent but volatile, who will grow more and more unruly as the year passes. There is Wei (Wei Haung), a Chinese boy whose French is still rough and who maybe uses this as an excuse to stay at a distance from people because that is how he wants it. There is Khoumba (Rachel Regulier) who begans as a friend, albeit a fiery one, of Mr. Marin but quickly turns foe. There is Esmeralda (Esmeralda Ouertani) and, rest assured, every class that has ever existed on either hemisphere has always had at least one Esmeralda.

The scenes that unfold do feel a great deal like a documentary, no music and improvised dialogue, but everything has a structure to it that will reveal itself in time. An early and lengthy scene finds both drama and comedy in a discussion regarding the imperfect subjunctive (if I'm remembering right) and then flips itself at the end and becomes about something else. But it doesn't cheat because it was slyly set up in the midst of the whole discussion.

I could discuss further plot points and scenes but I'm choosing not to and will leave the rest for you to discover. Is it hard to watch? Depends on your definition of that old standby phrase, but I didn't think so. Certain material contained within it is difficult but it is all presented in a riveting manner. It's an excellent film. When it arrives in your city, whether at the theater or by DVD, make a specific point to watch it.

1 comment:

Agent 2112 said...

Mrs. Maxwell sucks! I'll bet I hate her more than you. She told me to get a hair cut.