The Class (Entre les murs) [Blu-Ray]
Director : Laurent Cantet
Screenplay : François Bégaudeau, Robin Campillo, Laurent Cantet (based on the book by François Bégaudeau)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : François Bégaudeau (François Marin), Agame Malembo-Emene (Agame), Angélica Sancio (Angélica), Arthur Fogel (Arthur), Boubacar Toure (Boubacar), Burak Özyilmaz (Burak), Carl Nanor (Carl), Cherif Bounaïdja Rachedi (Cherif), Dalla Doucoure (Dalla), Damien Gomes (Damien), Esmeralda Ouertani (Esmeralda), Eva Paradiso (Eva), Henriette Kasaruhanda (Henriette), Juliette Demaille (Juliette), Justine Wu (Justine), Rachel Regulier (Khoumba), Laura Baquela (Laura), Louise Grinberg (Louise), Lucie Landrevie (Lucie), Nassim Amrabt (Nassim), Qifei Huang (Qifei), Rabah Nait Oufella (Rabah), Samantha Soupirot (Samantha), Franck Keïta (Souleymane), Wei Huang (Wei)
For its release in English-speaking countries, Laurent Cantet’s Palme d’Or-winning film Entre les murs has been given the rather generic and uninspiring title The Class, in the process losing the texture and subtlety of the original French title, which means literally “Between the Walls.” The entire film takes place inside of a school in a tough, multi-ethnic Parisian neighborhood, with most of the action taking place inside a classroom and the teachers’ lounge. This is both the film’s challenge and its strength, as it foregoes many of the assumed elements of the “inspirational teacher” genre, particularly the subset that introduces a white teacher to arouse the inner lights of his or her students of color, and instead adopts an unadorned, documentary-like observational approach that creates dramatic energy without a tightly delineated storyline. This is why the original French title has more currency, because it conveys the sense of entrapment that many students feel during school, particularly those who are further marginalized outside its walls.
Novelist François Bégaudeau, who spent a year teaching in a similar school after graduating from college and wrote a book about his experiences, plays Mr. Marin, a loose version of himself. Mr. Marin teaches French to a class of 13- and 14-year-old students who are predominantly of North African, Caribbean, or Chinese descent (all of whom are played by nonprofessionals mostly using their real names), and while there is little explicit attention to issues of poverty, neighborhood violence, or illegal immigration, those issues are always simmering just beneath what is happening in the classroom at any given moment. There is a subplot involving a Chinese student’s mother being deported, but otherwise what happens outside the walls of the classroom informs what happens within it, rather than directly intruding. This is where the film derives much of its strength as an emotional experience: It focuses our attention on the tense and always shifting power dynamics within the classroom without losing sight of the fact that school is but one element in the sometimes ragged texture of these students’ lives. By excluding everything outside the school walls, Bégaudeau, director Laurent Cantet (Heading South), and coscreenwriter Robin Campillo (who has collaborated on nearly all of Cantet’s features) neatly sidestep all the cloying and obvious subplots that frequently weigh down films of this sort.
Although the film lacks conventional narrative momentum, there is inherent interest in what happens in Mr. Marin’s classroom because it is a constant power struggle, with the teacher attempting to interest his students in the intricacies of the French language while they challenge--in ways both overt and subtle--the assumption of his authority. They question why he uses predominantly western names like “Bill” in his examples, rather than names that reflect the multicultural make-up of his class; defy the limits of his assignments; and sometimes simply refuse to do what they’re asked. Mr. Marin responds in various ways, but most frequently it is with wit and sarcasm, which cuts through his students’ anti-authoritarianism, but also constantly puts him at risk of insulting or belittling them. Essentially, there is a fine line between his need to puncture their rebellion from time to time as a way of reinforcing social norms and cutting them down in a way that is counterproductive, which is exactly what he does late in the film.
For what it attempts to do, The Class works extremely well. The cast is enormously effective, with more than a dozen students creating unique and memorable personalities, sometimes with only a few lines or dialogue and a few minutes on screen. Naturally, some students take on larger roles, especially Esmeralda (Esmeralda Ouertani), a particularly chipped stone who shows an unexpected interest in Plato’s Republic, and Souleymane (Franck Keïta), a surly, defiant student who may or may not be unfairly punished when he lets his temper swing out of control. François Bégaudeau has a natural charisma, and he plays Mr. Marin as a genuinely good man who wants to help, but also can’t help but feel frustrated at times, which is what the film is ultimately about: good intentions and the deeply flawed world in which they must work.
|The Class Blu-Ray|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Sony Pictures Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||August 11, 2009|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The 1080p high-def image on this Blu-Ray looks very good. The Class is not a particularly striking film visually, having been shot on HD video almost entirely inside a classroom, but there are some strong colors, including the industrial aqua-green of the walls and splashes of color in the characters’ clothing, all of which is nicely rendered. Detail is strong and black levels are consistent. The French Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround track (I couldn’t bring myself to listen to the English dub) doesn’t have much to do since the film is entirely dialogue-driven without any extradiegetic music, but it does create some decent ambience in the classroom setting and keeps all the dialogue clear and easy to understand (the packaging mistakenly refers to the soundtracks as 3.0, but they are 5.1).|
|Most of the supplements revolve around the unique kinds of preparation the filmmakers and actors undertook prior to the cameras rolling. In both “The Making of The Class” (41 min.) and “Actors’ Workshop” (30 min.) we get lots of raw footage of director Laurent Cantet, writer/actor François Bégaudeau, and the cast of young unknowns rehearsing and improvising scenes, which were then used to craft the final script (similar to how Mike Leigh works). Cantet and Bégaudeau also contribute a lucid audio commentary on three scenes in the film, which unfortunately are presented in nonanamorphic widescreen (at various points in the commentary it cuts away from the film and shows the two men talking). Lastly, the disc includes a 12-minute collection of “Actors’ Self-Portraits” and the theatrical trailer.|
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © Sony Pictures Home Entertainment