Monday, April 25, 2011

CinéClub on April 27: Please Join us


A movie by Laurent CANTET, 2008, crame, 2h00, avec François BEGAUDEAU, Nassim AMRABT, Laura BAQUELA…

Synopsis : Based on a work of contemporary fiction by French writer François Bégaudeau, The Class tells a semi-autobiographical account of Bégaudeau's experiences as a literature teacher working in a Parisian inner-city middle school. A microcosm of contemporary France, the classroom provides a showcase of clashing cultures and attitudes. Despite all the disputes and the difficulties involved in balancing such a low-paying job, Bégaudeau never fails to gain the respect of his students through his unwavering enthusiasm and diligence.


There’s an analogous reserve in the teaching methodology of François Bégaudeau in The Class to those of Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard in François Truffaut’s 1970 classic, The Wild Child [L’enfant sauvage]. He’s in his fourth year as a French-language instructor of 13- and 14-year-olds, many of them immigrants, in a scraping-by public school in Paris. Bégaudeau is enormously casual and informal in his dealings with his students. Anything can be talked about in class, from soccer to homosexuality, and he’s a straight shooter, always truthful with his kids. But though he’s a liberal nice guy on the side of his minions, he rarely praises them in an overt manner. In line with the pedantry of Dr. Itard, his students — some raw and unsocialized — are asked to find their own way. Bégaudeau is not the man to take a child aside and say, “I’m really enjoying having you in my class.” His way is to banter with his pupils, to challenge what they assert, and often in an ironic, sarcastic manner. (Is it correct to note that brooding, self-dramatizing teenagers don’t appreciate irony and sarcasm?)

Bégaudeau is a real-life teacher who penned a memoir, Entre les murs (the film’s original French title), about his time in the classroom. In The Class, he superbly plays himself, and all the students, equally adept as “actors,” use their real names. The film is nominally fiction, based on lengthy improvisations with the cast, and shot in an empty school during the summer. Yet it feels so “real,” its fluid camera style like a cinéma-vérité. The Class has been compared, aptly, to Frederick Wiseman’s documentaries about institutions. Like Wiseman, Cantet captures the most telling, “truthful” moments. His classroom comes vividly, beautifully alive: this is what school is all about! And like Wiseman, he doesn’t tell us what to think.

Is Bégaudeau the best teacher who ever lived? Is he in the wrong profession? Or is he something in between, a flawed instructor with good days and bad, like his moody students? You, the filmmaking audience, get to decide.