They talk. and talk. and oh yeah, they talk a lot more. They talk about Anne Frank. They talk about football (soccer to us Americanos). They even talk about coffee machines. And it's all in French btw. Pretty much, The Class never shuts up. But despite being one long run-on sentence of a film, that perhaps I wasn't ultimately in the mood for last night, it's good. It's really good in fact. With a full cast of unknowns (and likely never-knowns), the film feels more like a documentary that hit the jackpot, than a written drama.
The film follows French professor Francois as he copes day in and day out with a class of kids from a low rent neighborhood in France, that don't really know how to listen. Like any normal teenagers, the students are fine one day and a complete mess the next. One minute they are timidly inspiring hope in their teacher that he is making a difference in their lives, and the next they are throwing his attempt to educate them back in his face. Francois ricochets back and forth between trying to reach his students, and just giving up on them completely. Whatever you've heard about the film being centered on a "cool" or "inspiring" teacher, couldn't be further from the truth. As a man in a influential position with children, he makes huge mistakes constantly (and I'm not just talking about that one big one...). He says the wrong things all the time, he's discouraging without meaning to be, and he doesn't have the presence to command the room by jumping on a desk or grabbing a megaphone. In other words, he's real. You probably had a teacher just like him. In fact Francois Begaudeau, who plays himself in the film, was a real teacher. He wrote a book on his experiences called The Class, which he then turned into a screenplay of the film we see now. Francois' is exactly like many teachers I've had over the years, only he's more challenged by his students than mine ever were. He's flawless in the part, but would you expect him to be any other way since he's playing himself?
The key to the film is that everything feels completely unaltered by the presence of the cameras. It's all so real, it borders on terrifying. The question then becomes, is it so real, that it's pointless? Since it's not a documentary, it can never be the truth, no matter how hard it tries (even if it's based on true stories). However, since it's filmed and received like a documentary, where does this film fit in? It was in following this line of questioning that it dawned on me... this film is unique. I don't think anyone can say that often, if at all anymore. The more I thought about the film's lack of peers, the more I liked it. I focused less on the endless talking and more on the fact that no one does this. Is this a good enough reason for me to like the film, that it's alone? I'm still thinking on that. The subtle way that the topics of race and class were established in the film was one of its best attributes. They didn't hit you over the head with stereotypes or cliches, they just put the right kids together in the same class, and the rest seemed to come naturally from them. It was refreshing to see that not everything worked out in the end for them because they were "so inspired" by their wonderful, life changing professor. In fact, it seems the one thing the movie tries to establish the most is that nothing ever really changes, something everyone can appreciate.
Ultimately I walked out The Class overworked and tired. But all day today, I was still thinking about it, about it's lack of sugar and onslaught of reality. I appreciate the film now more than I can say. I'm increasingly impressed by it, even as I write this now.
Short and Sweet
Filmed like a documentary, but brilliantly written by the lead actor and real life professor Francois. As much talking in a film (and in French too) as you can likely stand. The Class stands out as a unique drama about being the classroom. There is no sugarcoating, and beware, there is no neatly tied up finale either. But it's worth seeing and learning from it what you can.