Entre les murs (The Class)

Entre les murs (The Class)

Entre les murs (The Class) (Director: Laurent Cantet): I’d been wait­ing to see this ever since it took the Palme d’Or at Cannes earlier this year. It was sup­posed to play at TIFF and then the New York Film Festival scooped it, so as far as I’m aware, this was the Canadian premiere of this film, and there was plenty of pent-up demand, with lines snak­ing down the street out­side the Isabel Bader Theatre. It didn’t hurt that the tick­ets were free, since the film opened the 4th annual Eh! U European Film Festival. This fest­ival offers two weeks of free screen­ings, so be sure to check out the rest of the lineup.

The film has an inter­est­ing back­story. Entre les murs (lit­er­ally “between the walls”) was ori­gin­ally the title of an “auto­bi­o­graph­ical novel” by Francois Begaudeau, a teacher of French in one of Paris’ tough “ban­lieues”. Director Cantet recruited Begaudeau to play him­self in a dramat­iz­a­tion of the book, using real junior high stu­dents to recre­ate the multi-racial envir­on­ment of the classroom. The stu­dents col­lab­or­ated with Cantet and Begaudeau and work­shopped the film in rehears­als for months before shoot­ing began. Although the film has the look and feel of a doc­u­ment­ary, noth­ing was entirely spon­tan­eous. It’s a remark­able achieve­ment, express­ing all the power of doc­u­ment­ary while main­tain­ing some dra­matic and cine­ma­to­graphic con­ven­tions.

One thing that keeps the ten­sion high is the fact that we never leave the school itself. The film cov­ers an entire school year, and we stay mostly with M. Marin (Begaudeau) as he con­fers with fel­low teach­ers, meets with par­ents and of course, attempts to teach in the mael­strom of his classroom. His charges range from ages 13–15 and are from all sorts of cul­tural back­grounds (Morocco, Tunisia, Mali, China and the Caribbean are all rep­res­en­ted). As a teacher of French, he’s teach­ing more than just lan­guage, but also what it means to be French. His stu­dents push back in every way ima­gin­able. Not only are they gen­er­ally unruly, but they don’t approve of his teach­ing meth­ods or his insist­ence on teach­ing them things like the imper­fect sub­junct­ive, which they feel is from “the Middle Ages.” Although he presents him­self as one of the more “pro­gress­ive” teach­ers, his exas­per­a­tion grows over time until he lashes out verbally at two stu­dents, which leads to a phys­ical con­front­a­tion with another. Cantet’s claus­tro­phobic cam­era helps you under­stand Marin’s rage. He feels as trapped in the school as his stu­dents, except that he’s out­numbered and no one will listen to him.

Classrooms are like petri dishes of soci­ety in gen­eral, and Entre les murs does a fine job of pok­ing and stir­ring the dish just enough to pro­voke some real drama. But best of all were the small moments of grace, when we get to see the little vic­tor­ies, not so much for Marin, but for his stu­dents. Two things stuck with me after watch­ing the film. First, that teach­ing is hard work; and second, that young people are end­lessly cap­able of sur­pris­ing us.

Official site of the film


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3 Responses to Entre les murs (The Class)

  1. Catherine says:

    Thanks for your report on this film, which I was so anxious to see but missed -merde! Do you know by chance if it will be com­ing to reg­u­lar dis­tri­bu­tion in Toronto theatres?

  2. James McNally says:

    Thanks so much for your com­ment, Catherine. Mongrel Media (http://www.mongrelmedia.com) is dis­trib­ut­ing it the­at­ric­ally in Canada, but I don’t see a release date any­where yet.

  3. Pingback: Toronto Film Critics Awards 2008 — Toronto Screen Shots

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