2008 // France // Laurent Cantet // November 22, 2008 // Theatrical Print (Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema)
The humanistic power of Laurent Cantet's wrenching, glorious The Class is undeniable. Its naturalistic cinematic language, serviceable and modest, never truly sizzles, but it doesn't need to. Here is a film whose strength lies almost entirely in its vivid recreation of the intoxicating, dreadful humming of adolescence. Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by François Bégaudeau, the film features Bégaudeau himself as a French instructor in inner-city Paris. Bégaudeau' class is like a boat constantly on the verge of tipping over. His students are multi-cultural, rowdy, insolent, aggravated, and fiercely intelligent in staccato bursts. Yet Cantet and Bégaudeau eschew the feel-good moralizing of countless classroom dramas for electric realism, permitting the essential conflicts modern of French society (or any society for that matter) to swirl and surface naturally. In long, mesmerizing scenes of Bégaudeau herding his class through conjugation and composition, The Class conveys the cultural minefield and Sisyphean misery that its secondary education. Cantet refuses to simplify teachers as heroes, just as he resists painting every student as a potential convert to academic success. Ferocious and yet fragile, The Class is an astonishing work of social realism, one that caught my breath time and again.