Good news for film lovers, filmmaker Laurent Cantet’s Entre Le Murs (The Class) has finally found its way into the cultural backwater that is Calgary. A virtual black hole of English coverage exists for the film and unless you are a reader of French Playboy or the supplemental arts section of Le Monde you probably haven’t heard much about it. For the few that have heard rumblings, the end to the long wait for the seminal film ought to placate those cinephiles that are in a state of agitation over the success of Benjamin Button or confounded by the absurd debate over whether the Dark Knight is the twenty fist century Citizen Kane.
The Class was the deserving winner of the Cannes film festival’s highest honour the Palm d’Or and is the heavy favourite in the best foreign feature category for the Oscars. Based upon the autobiographical novel by Francois Begaudeau (who stars in the feature) the film deals with a year in an urban Paris public school. A weathered but passionate French school teacher, Francois Marin, struggles to teach a racially mixed class, often on the brink of chaos. The actors are actual students and deliver the best youth performances since a prepubescent Christian Bale was interred in Shanghai in a Japanese POW camp in Empire of the Sun.
This film is simply incredible and there are times, both by virtue of the subtle and virtuoso storytelling and the seamless technical presentation, when the viewer is unable to construct the usual systems of disbelief. The Alberta Teacher Association should consider giving away tickets because after watching this film you are unlikely to malign a teacher or fuss about them making a working wage. You can lose yourself in this film and start to appreciate why the youth of Paris suburbs have recently taken to setting automobiles alight in the evening and making Paris resemble a bad case of hemorrhoids.
Filmed in high definition digital the film uses extensive use of mobile cameras that deliver a cinema verite feel without the rough look. The effect is an intimate realism that is not only a coup of film aesthetics but an intense and mesmerizing experience. The film’s lasting message is that high school, like any attenuated and intense trauma, defines its victims and, as all self-aware adults know, never really ends for the participants.