To Teach or Not to Teach


199. The Class (Laurent Cantet, 2008)

Palme d’Or winner at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival this film stars its own writer, François Bérgaudeau, in a semi-autobiographical story of the problems he encountered when teaching in a French inner-city school.  As interesting and engaging as it is I really struggled to see quite why this was deemed worthy of winning any top awards.  As an English teacher myself it was interesting to see how French is taught in French schools, where the emphasis is laid and how similar this is to the pressures laid at the door of English teachers in this country.  Bérgaudeau is François Marin, a teacher who manages through good intentions to become embroiled in a series of confrontations with a class.  There’s a sense of panic in portions of the film where you are left to wonder about Marin and the decisions he has to make, often on the spur of the moment.  Despite this and a series of strong performances from the young people involved it never struck me as a film that will have any serious implications for French society.  My yardstick for this is Mathieu Kassovitz’ excellent La Haine a film which had deep ramifications in forcing large swathes of French society to acknowledge problems they might have otherwise ignored. For more on that read this excellent Criterion blog entry.

As for The Class, it’s an interesting film especially as a counterpoint to the much more gentle French schoolteacher documentary Etre et Avoir.  But perhaps I’m missing something, perhaps I am too close to the subject matter to truly understand what is happening in the film.  Because I didn’t love it, I found myself being critical of the mis-steps that Marin makes in dealing with certain situations.  I did find it to be ultimately an honest film though, not worried about letting the audience know that regardless of the situation there will always be pupils who are let down and left behind. An unfortunate outcome that I’m increasingly aware of.  I’d welcome any other views from my fellow teachers…

For a much more optimistic and descriptive review of The Class read this piece from Guardian writer Peter Bradshaw.

2 thoughts on “To Teach or Not to Teach”

  1. Nice to see the reviews up up-and-running again mate!

    I quite concur with your thoughts on this film, also being a teacher I found myself cringing at some of his actions. Perhaps you really do have to have a distance from the subject matter to find this an exceptional film? It just felt like watching a class of cheeky kids and didn’t really have the social critique that others have praised it for. Just a day at the office!

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