Starring Franí§ois Bégaudeau. In French with English subtitles. Rated PG. Opens Friday, January 30, at the Cinemark Tinseltown
Kids these days. Has there ever been a generation that doesn’t say that about the next group of youngsters nipping at their heels?
Still, the school systems of the western democracies have, by any measure, undergone startling transformations in recent decades. Eroding resources, mass migration, overworked parents, and the wholesale wising-up of formerly sheltered children have resulted in polyglot classrooms stuffed with unruly students.
Watch the trailer for The Class.
So pity the poor teacher trying to cope with all that and still get adolescents conjugating their verbs. Such a fellow is Franí§ois, a Parisian high-school teacher played by real-life educator Franí§ois Bégaudeau. He based the lightly fictional screenplay here on his own book, although he spent a year working up the movie’s particulars with students currently hashing out similar problems in Paris’s roiling suburbs.
The grittily good-natured film was directed by Laurent Cantet, maker of such socially minded fare as Human Resources and Time Out, as well as a ghastly cougars-on-vacation tale called Heading South. Cantet likes the nuts-and-bolts aspects of life’s daily dramas, and here is where you can discover what it’s like to be amidst students from French, Arabic, African, and Asian backgrounds.
The students get along surprisingly well, if only because they rally against authority figures; there’s a constant power play as they attempt to find weaknesses in a system inherently more liberal than what many find at home. Franí§ois comes across as tolerant, creative, and flawed—pretty much what you’d expect in a teacher dedicated to getting the best out of children determined to thwart him—as in the centrepiece conflict with a bright and troubled Sudanese student (cast standout Franck Keí¯ta).
No trumpets blare at the conclusion of The Class, and there’s little uplift í la Mr. Holland’s Opus. When this term ends, the results are muddled and the future remains vague. And yet you come away feeling these kids are more like us than we thought.