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All Movie Guide -Teaching is tough all over, and being a good educator means not only taking as much away from the classroom experience as you put into it, but also accepting the towering responsibility of holding sway over impressionable minds. So goes the story in The Class, a film about the efforts made by a bright young French teacher to reach his uninterested students, as well as an honest examination of how people interact in an environment where everyone is expected to get along. Inspired by writer/star
eal-life teacher François Bégaudeau's memoir of the same name, The Class permits us a tantalizing look into a typical French classroom. François Marin Bégaudeau playing a fictionalized version of himself isn't content to simply teach French, he wants to challenge his students to think as well. But while Marin's intentions may be noble, his students are rebellious and decidedly strong-headed. Most have little interest in the subject at hand, though by assigning them projects in which they must master the language while learning about themselves in the process, Marin works hard to keep them learning. Some students, like Chinese immigrant Wei Wey Huang, are up to the challenge, while others like the tempestuous Souleymane Franck Keita and outspoken sports fan Nassim Nassim Amrabt seem more interested in shaking things up than bettering themselves. When Souleymane erupts during a heated exchange between the teacher and his students, the school board schedules a meeting to determine if he should be expelled. Marin's account of the incident will play a pivotal role in determining whether Souleymane stays or goes, but when it comes to light that the teacher himself made some questionable comments in front of his students that day, his fellow board members begin to suspect that he may have inadvertently escalated the situation. When a concerned student reveals that Souleymane's father will send the boy back to Mali if he's expelled, Marin realizes that his actions may have greater consequences than he intended. The Class may feel more like a documentary than a straightforward narrative feature, but therein lies its effectiveness in revealing the many challenges faced by contemporary educators -- or at least the ones who give a damn. Every caring teacher strives to give his or her students something useful to take away from the classroom, but few are able to accomplish the monumental task of convincing them to listen long enough to actually let those lessons sink in. Being a teacher just might be the most thankless job out there, but it's also one of the most important. Marin realizes this, and it obviously matters to him. With naturalistic grace, Bégaudeau's screenplay makes use feel like we're sitting in the classroom observing rather than sitting in a darkened theater -- and it matches perfectly with director Laurent Cantet's handheld shooting style. The students look like average kids as opposed to aspiring actors dressed by a professional costume designer, and their dialogue sounds as if it was actually spoken by 13-year-olds rather than penned by a fortysomething screenwriter seeking to create a conflict scenario instead of allowing the natural tensions of the classroom to drive the story. In a Hollywood film, the troubled student would come back to the school after being expelled and hold the classroom hostage at gunpoint until the teacher found some miraculous means of breaking through to him just as the police were about to storm the building. But Bégaudeau is less concerned with contrived drama than in providing us with the opportunity to actually listen to what these kids are saying. The dilapidated public education system appears constantly poised on the verge of collapse, and there's no denying that the students can sense this. So do they just play along with the game until the inevitable happens, or do they rise to the challenge in an attempt to take control of their futures? In raising these questions, The Class may hit too close to home to be considered "entertainment" for many. But for those of us who remain curious about the current state of public education and are willing to listen to what these students have to say, hearing their thoughts is as engaging as it is educational.