The Class
Somehow I don’t think that woman in a bikini is Marie Curie.

Theatrical Release Date: 09/24/2008 (France), 02/20/2009 (USA)
Director: Laurent Cantet
Cast: François Bégaudeau, Rachel Regulie, Esmeralda Ouertani, Wey Huang, Franck Keïta

Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars and winner of the 2008 Palme d’or at the Cannes film festival, “The Class” is a semi-autobiographical tale of a teacher enduring a particularly challenging class over the course of the school year in a less than affluent Paris neighborhood.

What struck me about this film is the sense of realism brought to the screen. It’s obvious that writer/star François Bégaudeau knows what he’s talking about. The mundane nature of classroom instruction and the attempt to teach kids mostly uninterested in school to begin with shines through in every scene – so much so, that it’s almost like revisiting one’s own educational experience. The dry lectures, the frequent bursts of students’ immaturity, the bare minimum effort put forth as a result; it all reminds me of why it’s great those days are in the past.

Of course, the film would not work if Bégaudeau’s performance didn’t resonate with the truth and conviction that it does. As one with only a modicum of patience (especially when it comes to instructing kids), I was constantly amazed at the amount of abuse he took from his kids. While watching the film, I was reminded of all the petty, childish things I did as a student and am on the verge of tracking down some teachers to apologize.

And when Bégaudeau does cross the breaking point, lashing out at his students, I didn’t really fault the unprofessionalism. Those damn kids deserved it. I know that as an adult, I’m supposed to understand that teenagers don’t always understand the ramifications of their actions and only know how to react according to their impulsive emotions … but there’s a level of respect students should have for their teachers, classmates and themselves and it annoys me to see that the level of discipline that should have been instilled at home doesn’t seem to have happened.

In order to engender such a reaction, the actors playing the students truly show off their fantastic performances – feeling genuine and sincere. While the film is scripted, it felt much more like a camera was dropped into the middle of a real classroom and more often than not, the film takes on a documentary-like tone and that’s all a credit to the actors, hand-held camera work and natural lighting.

That’s not to say I’m all wine and roses here. Although some of the story arcs are given decent resolutions, there were many others that felt unfinished. If you’re going to get me invested in these students’ lives, I expect some sense of closure. That just seems like common courtesy to me and perhaps because the runtime had already crept over the two hour mark, director Laurent Cantet decided that he shouldn’t keep the audience in the seats for any more time than he felt absolutely necessary.

Additionally, as good as the performances are, I was unprepared (and uninterested honestly) in seeing a film about teaching that doesn’t ever really make it seem like the profession is worth the hassle. Make no mistake, “The Class” is a bit of a bummer. Sure, there are a few students whose stories are gratifying but the manner in which Bégaudeau is broken down by the events that take place fails to provide any reason why he’d continue to return to the school year after year. If I were a teacher at the school, it would take truck fulls of cash to keep me around … I just do not need that kind of stress.

And it’s because of this clash of realism and dissatisfaction that rating the film becomes so convoluted. On the one hand, Cantet and Bégaudeau have delivered a very natural and realistic look at the trials and tribulations many teachers go through every year. However, the loose ends and far gloomier take on things left me in the cold. Still, on its technical merit, I’m going to give “The Class” a 4 out of 5. Keep in mind though, that if you are a teacher or are ever thinking of becoming one, I wouldn’t recommend this film. It’s likely going to steer you in the other direction … and we need all the teachers we can get.