(Winner of the Palme D’or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival)
Based on Francois Begaudeau’s novel, Entre les murs (The Class) is the story of a language/literature teacher trying to help a group of kids in a middle school in Paris. Directed by Laurent Cantet with a script written by Cantet, Begaudeau, and Robin Campillo. The film chronicles an entire year’s work when a teacher tries to help trouble kids pass school as Begaudeau stars as the teacher in the film. The result is a compelling yet mesmerizing film from Laurent Cantet.
It’s the beginning of a new school year at a middle school at the 20th arrondissement in Paris as Francois Marin (Francois Begeaudeau) is in his fourth year teaching at the school. After talking with fellow teachers and the principal (Jean-Michel Simonet) about what to do for the new year, Marin is ready to teach French to a group of students. Some of which are new to his class while others have worked with him. During the course of the year, he works with the students about teaching the correct grammar in French as some of the students are foreign but don’t speak French well.
Marin is concerned over one of his students in Khoumba (Rachel Regulier) who refuses to read as he wonders what happened to her this past summer. Marin decides to give his students a bit assignment for the year as he wants them to reveal themselves in self-portraits. Not about their life but their personalities and activities as it goes well while one of the troubled students named Souleymane (Franck Keita) uses photos for his project. Just before the first half of the term ends, a new student named Carl (Carl Nanor) joins the class after a transfer from another school.
With students excited about the project and being inspired, things become problematic as Souleymane starts to act out. A meeting featuring two student reps in Esmeralda (Esmeralda Ouertani) and Louise (Louise Grinberg) about some disciplinary issues and such over some students proved to be troubling. Even as it involves Souleymane who has been getting into trouble as another act of insolence from Souleymane happens. With Marin in trouble for some words that he were misinterpreted, he learns about what would happen to Souleymane as he also wonders about the rest of his students.
The film is about an entire school year as a teacher tries to become equals with his students as they learn about each other and such. Throughout the entirety of the film, it all takes place inside the school from the perspective of teachers as they try to help out kids during an entire year. Francois Marin is a man who isn’t trying to be an authority figure but rather a teacher who wants to teach his students and be equal to them despite their rowdiness and often questioning about why they have to learn this and such.
The film’s script is very loose in its presentation as it mostly emphasize on improvisation to make it feel real. Even as the dialogue between Marin and his students have something that is very natural along with a few key scenes such as the meetings between teachers or a parent-teacher conference. While the script has a unique structure in its approach to the story in allowing the relationship between Marin and his students progress despite the tension that often appears throughout. One of the biggest storylines that dominates the third act is the behavioral issues with Souleymane who is clearly a talented kid but has issues at home.
Laurent Cantet’s direction is definitely engaging as he goes for a cinema verite style where he lets everything happen and make it feel real. Since he is shooting largely inside a school as the only exteriors shown are the school’s entrance and the playground in the middle of the school. There is also an intimacy to Cantet’s direction since part of the is shot inside a classroom as he is always the camera follow Marin teaching while shooting the students reacting or at times, not reacting. Cantet’s direction is truly wondrous from start to finish while its lack of conventional script does make the film very long where some viewers might find it to be slow and such. Yet, it feels very real since life in a classroom isn’t always fun at times as Cantet creates something that is truly audiences can relate to be amazed by.
Cinematographer Pierre Milon does an excellent job with the film‘s photography as it is mostly straightforward in its look while maintaining something that is very natural. Editors Robin Campillo and Stephanie Leger do some nice work with the editing that is also straightforward in its approach. Even as it goes for a leisured pace throughout the film to complement its verite style. Costume designers Elizabeth Joinet and Marie Le Garrec do a great job with the costumes by making kids wear clothes that play off to their personalities as a lot of the costumes are very casual. Sound editor Agnes Ravez does a fine job with the sound in capturing the raucous world of the schools as well as the intimacy in the class rooms.
The casting is definitely the highlight of the film as it is mostly surrounded by non-professional actors. For the roles of the teachers, there’s Vincent Robert, Anne Langlois, and Vincent Gaire along with Jean-Michel Simonet as a sympathetic school principal. For the varied roles of the students, there’s standouts as Wei Haung as a Chinese kid who has trouble speaking French correctly, Louise Grinberg as a student rep leader, Nassim as a Moroccan national team supporter, and Carl Nanor as the tough but caring new student. Other notable young performances include Rachel Regulier as the troubled though gifted Khoumba, Esmeralda Ouertani as the nihilistic yet dark-humored Esmeralda, and Franck Keita as the talented but confrontational Souleymane.
The film’s best performance is Francois Begeaudeau as Francois Marin. Begeaudeau brings a real yet charismatic performance as a teacher trying to help some kids by being equals as well as someone to guide them. Even as there’s moments where he becomes imperfect and struggles with doing what is right for the school or for a student. It’s a great performance from the film’s novelist.
Entre les murs is a remarkable from Laurent Cantet featuring a superb ensemble cast led by Francois Begeaudeau and a large array of young actors. Audiences wanting a film that isn’t the conventional inspirational teacher film will enjoy this as it plays to a realism that isn’t seen in a lot films about school life. It’s a film that doesn’t sugarcoat anything or dwell into heavy melodrama while showing the idea of what teachers try to do for young minds. In the end, Entre les murs is an excellent yet engaging film from Laurent Cantet and company.
© thevoid99 2011