Friday, February 26, 2010

The Class (Entre les murs)

I don't like to talk much about it because of the psychological scars, but I taught public school for several years.  I loved it about 25% of the time: June, July, half of August, Christmas break, and spring break.  Other than that it was pretty miserable.  So I can somewhat relate to the teachers in The Class.

This film won the Oscar last year for best foreign film.  It focuses on one French class at an inner-city Paris high school.  The class, a multi-ethnic mix of immigrants and French, could really be in any American high school (if only Americans spoke French).  The attitudes, cliques, and unwillingness to learn would fit right in.  Maybe what grabbed the critics' attention was the raw reality of The Class; it could almost have been a documentary.  Much of the movie's action is actually teaching lessons and class discussions.  Much of the dialogue seems extemporaneous and unscripted.

Watching these foul-mouthed, undisciplined, disrespectful punks reminded me what I hated about teaching.  The kids contemptuously push the teacher, Francois, past his limits of patience, thwarting his sincere desire to treat them like adults and instill some knowledge.

In one scene, another teacher storms into the teachers' lounge, loudly complaining about the kids, their attitudes, and their behaviors.  "I'm sick of these clowns!  Sick of them!  I can't take any more!  They're nothing!  They know nothing!  They look right through you when you try to teach them! . . . I'm not going to help them.  They're so basic and insincere, always looking for trouble. . . .  It's been 3 months now and they haven't done a single thing!  . . . Enough.  No more."  I can relate to this guy. That's how I felt almost on a daily basis.

I like the fact that, unlike most movies about teachers, this movie is not about a dedicated teacher who takes on a tough assignment and miraculously transforms a bunch of school-hating thugs into scholars.  In fact, Francois loses his cool and nearly loses his job.  Somehow he manages to stick around and does make some progress with the class. 

There's not a lot here in terms of story, but for a realistic portrayal of teen/teacher interactions at school, The Class is a strong movie.  Not a bad movie, but Oscar worthy?  Were there no better foreign films last year?  I bet there were.

Bottom line, 2 1/2 stars.

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