The Class (Laurent Cantet, 2008): France
Reviewed by Marissa Vogt. Viewed at the AFI Film Festival, Archlight Hollywood.
The Class tells the story of a classroom of students and their teachers in a metropolitan area of France. It focuses on the struggle for power between teachers and students, students whose world views are greatly altered from those two decades ago by the media and the ever changing effects of socio-economic status.
Opening with a teacher’s conference to prepare for the coming school year, the viewer is introduced to the foreshadowed plot of student rebellion and difficulties faced by the teachers. Francois is the French teacher for grades ¾ (which groups the children aged thirteen and fourteen), seems disheartened but ready for the challenge of the incoming students. Humorously, one teacher is seen showing the list of her incoming students to another teacher who comments “Oh she’s horrible, she’s really bad, and he’s good… “And so on.
Once in Francois’s French class the audience is introduced to the students, each shows an individual personality. For the most part though, their main intent seems to be as deviant as possible. The ask Francois why they have to learn French, what is the point. Francois’s responses change through the course of the film from being polite to argumentative, and in these heated debates erupts the conflict of the plot. The tender sexuality of the age group of the students is shown many times through sexually charged conversation. One student even goes as far as to ask Francois if it is true, does he like men?
The film’s themes are told mostly through the narrative, as the humble scenery rarely diverts from a single classroom and the sounds are limited to almost solely conversation. It is reminiscent of “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder, a play performed with little to no scenery and based almost entirely on the conversations between characters. From the violently verbal confrontations between the teacher and his disrespectful students, to the conversations held between the teachers themselves everything revolves around the dialogue. The main focus of the film seems to be to show the angst of the new generation and their lack of desire to learn, complex settings would only hinder the verbal flow.
The film provides an interesting look into the global classroom at a difficult age. Leaving the theatre, I was left questioning the students and teachers respective actions. Maybe insight comes with age, but I’m intrigued if others who saw the film thought their classmates acted in a similar fashion?