The Class is a compelling film based on the autobiographical novel by Francois Begaudeau about a teacher working at a school in the poor suburbs of Paris where cultural and ethnic diversity is vast. Begaudeau expertly plays a version of himself as the leading role Francois Marin, an optimistic and smart French literature and language teacher hoping to open up the minds of the 14-15 year old girls and boys he is in charge of.
Directed by French director Laurent Cantet, the film slowly moves along giving us an inspection of the daily life of a teacher, subtlety building towards its non-climatic but thought-provoking ending. The action of the film takes place solely within the school grounds meaning Francois’s personal life remains unexplored. This allows us only to judge Francois as a teacher alone and opens up the difficulties and challenges that teachers face.
The film also focuses on a number of the pupils, in particular two outspoken girls Esmeralda (Esmeralda Ouertani) and Khoumba (Rachel Regulier) and the lazy and indifferent to education Souleymane (Franck Keita). Though Souleymane is insolent and cheeky, once asking Francois whether the rumours were true that he “likes men,” Francois successfully gets through to Souleymane during a class project.
The assignment was to write or create a self-portrait and Souleymane pleasantly surprises Francois by presenting him with beautiful pictures taken of his family from his camera phone and thus revealing his hidden depths. However, the breakthrough doesn’t last long as Esmeralda, as a class representative, is involved in a staff meeting, then divulges the confidential information to her classmates, causing accusations and hurt for both teacher and pupil.
Ultimately this is a humanist film preoccupied with the relationship between the teacher and the pupil, the adult and the child, that doesn’t fit into any clichés but instead depicts classroom scenes and staff room encounters with a genuine effortlessness.