The Class (Entre les murs)

The Class

“I don’t understand what we do here.” “In French?” “…In school.”

The Class is a French film adapted from the semi-autobiographical accounts of a French teacher in Paris, named Francois Begaudeau. I name him because for the film adaptation of his book, they decided to have him play the main role of the teacher, so he was essentially a French teacher playing the role of a French teacher from a script written by that same French teacher. I found that amusingly interesting, and it was little factoids like that that kept my interest up through the actual film, since there really isn’t anything about the film that is all that compelling. It’s well made, but that’s about the only real compliment I can give it. Now, let me tell you why.

The film deals with Begaudeau, here playing a French teacher named Marin, as he deals with his class of 13-to-14-year-olds, who are typical in the attitudes of 13-to-14-year-olds, or at least the caricature of 13-to-14-year-olds presented to us by movies like The Class; that is, every single one of them is rebellious and self-centered to a fault, constantly getting into problems and conflicts with presumed authority figures and each other, and generally being real dickheads. Now, speaking as a former 13-to-14-year-old, I was nowhere near this level of audacious assholery; sure, I was impulsive and bull-headed at times, since I didn’t have the wherewithal to make the realization that my thoughts weren’t always correct all the time, but I was never an outright bastard about it. If this is supposed to be indicative of Parisian schools and the students who populate it, I can only say; thank the heavens I was not born French. I don’t think this is supposed to be indicative of how Parisian schools really are, though, in the same way that Fish Tank was indicative of every single urban British youth, but if it was supposed to be, then the filmmakers have very flawed perceptions about teenagers (not some, mind you; some are exactly like this film presents, but not every single one of them like in this film). Now, to me, there’s a fundamental difference between a film that merely is, and a film that has something to say underneath a veneer of hyper-realism. The Class was essentially the former kind of film trying slyly to masquerade as the latter kind; there was a sort of air put off by the film, like it wanted you to believe that it was significant and important and impactful and meaningful, but without letting you know that it wanted to be significant and impactful and meaningful. There’s several layers of manipulation going on here, and if there’s one thing that gets my goat with films, it’s when they blatantly and arbitrarily try and manipulate you.

Now, of course, all films are really vehicles of manipulation when you get pedantic about it, but not every film does so for the worse, and even when you’re able to figure out you’re being manipulated, you’re willing to let it go to satisfy the need for entertainment and a good story. The Class isn’t that kind of film; it was almost nefarious in its attempts to conceal that there really isn’t any substance underneath the many layers of the film. Any of my attempts to fill in this gap myself were mere excuses, and I could tell I was making them up for the sake of trying to make one up. The problem was, when I wasn’t doing this, the film didn’t really have anything else to offer me. I don’t even know if I could go so far as to say it was entertaining; it was interesting, in a nostalgic sort of way, but watching the film was essentially an exercise in killing two hours and little else. Some neorealist fans might get something out of this one, but for the rest of you, unless you want to kinda re-experience what school was like, in a twisted sort of way, there’s really no reason to watch this.

Oh, I forgot to mention, this is another inexplicable winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes. I swear, that prestigious prize is getting less and less prestigious the more winners of it I see, especially the modern films.

Arbitrary Rating: 6/10

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