A French film The Class has a documentary film feel. This drama shows the relationships and struggles in a low income, ethnically mixed Paris high school. Think a French Up the Down Staircase or Dangerous Minds. The difference with this movie, and I think it makes it a stronger film is that the outcomes aren’t as upbeat. The main character, Msgr. Marin is far from perfect and his students are for the most part insolent and disruptive. The one’s who do learn do so in spite of the chaos that seems to reign at this school.
There’s a scene at the ending that would never appear in a Hollywood film about the teacher who beats the odds. See the spoiler alert below.
Most Hollywood films in this genre show the teacher as a hero, with perhaps a minor flaw and then there’s the nemesis principal who’s devoted to the rules. The Class is better than that. Mr. Marin and the other teachers have their weaknesses and Marin makes the same mistakes, talking to the students in the same sarcastic way in September and in March, though he doesn’t even see how counterproductive it is, all through the year. He is committed to students’ progress and wants them to do better, but he’s blind to his own faults. He doesn’t grow the way Hollywood teachers do and that makes the film work better.
The kids are so mouthy and that really never changes. A lot of class time is wasted and it’s not like they’ve just deviated from the curriculum and are really spending time on the relevant to later have an Aha! moment. They’re just manipulating the teacher and steering the class off course. Like my classmates at St. Philips often did. One wonders why these teachers stay. And that’s reality. I’d love to see an American version of this. Then perhaps we’d see that NCLB or the Race to the Top aren’t the answer.
I found the scene near the end where Marin learns that one of the bright but rowdy girls had read Plato’s Republic on her own and more or less learned more without him to be so powerful and surprising. She was saving that gem for the last day to show him and the school system that she was better than they thought. Now that was an exception and rather adolescent, which is part of the essential problem. Adolescent behavior is so largely “biting off your nose to spite your face” and it’s so hard now to counter that. I’m not saying it was ever easy, but in this era . . .
One girl, whom never made a peep the whole year tells the teacher that she really didn’t learn anything all year. Not in any class. And we see that she’s sincere and no one noticed since she wasn’t a trouble maker or star student.
This is a good example of French filmmaking. It showed me a new dimension and how as good as Truffaut and say Goddard are, there are new French films that aren’t too artsy for the average American filmgoer.