Some people might mistake The Class for a documentary. It is very convincing in terms of its visual style, and careful in abstaining from film techniques that may impinge on its realism. Improvised around a script based on the real experiences of François Bégaudeau, (who actually plays the central role of French teacher François) The Class is a treatise on the day to day struggle to maintain order ‘between the walls’ of a contemporary Parisian classroom. Boasting remarkable performances from its young cast of non-professionals, its no wonder that when the film won the Palme d’Or, director Laurent Cantet made sure they all went up to receive it with him – they make this film work.
Beginning on the first day of a new year François warns his class about time wasting, five minutes here and there he says will add up by the end of the year. Of course this ironically comes to fruition as François is constantly side-tracked, thrown off on tangents, and forced to deal with the constant conflicts that occur in his racially diverse classroom. The realism and the riveting drama of The Class come from this situation and conflict. While there are clearly race, class and institutional issues specific to France at play, the film is generally universal in its themes.
I can say The Class is realistic from personal experience. I lost count of the number of scenes that reminded me of situations from my own years in high school. It is that undeclared war between the students and the teacher that is the subject of The Class, a futile war that never has a winner. This isn’t Dangerous Minds, where Michelle Pfeiffer overcomes her class of troublemakers and unites them by the end. Any victories that do occur in The Class are minor, and few and far between.
Discussing a uniform disciplinary system, François suggests it would be impossible to implement, each case must be dealt with on an individual level. When such a case does arise in the film, marking the plots apotheosis, it will undoubtedly polarise audiences. At this point the film reminds us that the decisions teachers must make are monumental, and the repercussions fundamentally life altering. Though set in France, I know this film will strike a chord with teachers and students alike in this country.