The Class (Entre des Murs)

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Cannes Film Festival, In Competition

CANNES -- Laurent Cantet's camera never leaves a French high school as he takes a raw look at a school year through the eyes of a single teacher in "Class" (whose French title "Entre les Murs" or "Between the Walls" accurately captures the self-imposed quarantine). This yields a highly dramatic and candid look at the challenges facing a nation that prides itself on its egalitarianism yet is now being confronted with a multi-ethnic citizenry that does not always embrace its hallowed traditions. While the film probably limits itself to French-speakers and Francophiles, the issues are clearly universal to all multicultural societies.

The film is based on a novel by Francois Begaudeau, written from his own experiences as a teacher. He also contributes to the screenplay and plays the key role of a French language teacher, so we can be pretty certain the film stays true its subject. Cantet also shot in a classroom using three cameras so he was able to shoot continuously for up to 20 minutes, giving the film a documentary flavor.

While Begaudeau's teacher struggles to get his young charges to focus on French verbs, they interrupt to question why in his examples he always uses "white" names or whether the required reading has any relevancy to their lives.

Many students come from abroad; some have parents who are undocumented immigrants. They kid a lot, some of it good-natured but much of it comes closer to mockery. Their intolerance stems from attitudes about how other students look and behave, where they are from and how they speak.

As the year goes by, the students and Begaudeau's fellow teachers come into sharper focus. One student from Mali (played by Franck Keita) increasingly upsets the class with his attitude and anger. Like many, he isn't clear what school can offer him. He is sullen and retreats into rage, possibly to disguise his own fear of failure. Then the teacher himself makes a fateful miscalculation.

What works so well here is that none of the drama feels the least bit imposed. It evolves naturally from class assignments, the teacher's own free-form style and the distinctly individual personalities of these young people thrown together by chance. While it may lack the narrative drive of films from the past such as "Blackboard Jungle," it also contains nothing contrived or gimmicky. This is probably one of the most realistic high school movies ever made.

Production companies: Haut et Court

Cast: Francois Begaudeau, Franck Keita, Wei Huang, Nassim Amrabt, Atouma Dioumassy.

Director: Laurent Cantet.
Screenwriters: Laurent Canet, Robin Campillo, Francois Begaudeau.
Based on the novel by: Francois Begaudeau
Producers: Caroline Benjo, Carol Scotta, Barbara Letellier, Simon Arnal
Director of photography: Pierre Milon, Catherine Pujol, Georgi Lazarevski.
Production designer: Sabine Barthelemy, Helene Bellanger.
Costume designer: Marie Le Garrec.
Editor: Robin Camillo.
Sales: Memento Films International.
No rating, 128 minutes.

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