Written by Francois Bégaudeau, Robin Campillo and Laurent Cantet
Directed by Laurent Cantet
Starring Francois Bégaudeau
Sit still and pay attention because class is now in session. This year’s winner at Cannes for the Palmes d’Or and Academy Award nominee for Foreign Language Film contender, ENTRE LES MURS (THE CLASS), is a surprisingly engaging experience considering what you are actually watching unravel on screen. Francois Bégaudeau is a teacher and a novelist. He wrote a book about his experiences teaching teenagers in a troubled Parisian neighborhood, translated that into a screenplay and now finds himself playing a version of himself in the film. It is now our turn to attend his class and watch in amazement as the games play out. The film rarely leaves the school grounds but it keeps its audience focused at all times, which is a lot more than I can say for Bégaudeau and his students.
Calling what happens in Bégaudeau’s classroom a game is a gross understatement. It is more like a war of minds and egos. The teachers all go in at the beginning of the session feeling defensive and preparing themselves for the worst, therefore often fulfilling their own prophecies. The students, well, it isn’t that they are so uninterested in learning; they just care more about social status and fitting in. So they spend the time they should be conjugating verbs coming up with witty quips and trying to look big and tough in front of their recess buddies. And with 30 or so of them and only one teacher, the odds are far from being in Bégaudeau’s favor.
The entire cast is stellar, as is required in order for the cinema verité approach to be believable. This is all the more impressive considering the majority of them have never acted before, including Bégaudeau himself. ENTRE LES MURS is a great film, funny one minute as the banter flies through the room like a renegade spitball and distressing the next, when the realization that scenarios just like this are happening all over the civilized world. It is also a heck of a lot more entertaining than I remember school to be.