Saturday, May 08, 2010

"The Class" (Language - French) (2008) - Movie Review

A teacher is hated, admired or treated as a simpleton by the students. The psychology of a kid in his/her high school days cannot be contained in a box. Everything appears opposing their ideas and clueless philosophies. Adverse and opposing reactions are the tool they carry around. Attitude, arrogance and disobedience are seen as a shield than one step closer to the future they would not want. While my existence was doubted in high school, I took a complete different tone during my college years. It was more than a rebel and it was an act of someone finding things for the first time. I missed the high school days to learn those and at college it all erupted. Though I do have to say that the best times of my life happened during those ruffian days. “The Class” would bring back those memories and we begin to feel for the teachers. I did.

In this semi-autobiographical story, François Marin (François Bégaudeau) is the French teacher working in the inner city public school. The students cannot get more diverse than this. Starting from Wei (Wei Huang) to Souleymane (Franck Keita), the room can hold hands and sing “We Are the World” but that is not going to happen. These are kids coming from the rough neighbourhood were violence, poverty and emotional distress are a regular sight. All those pour into these walls. It gushes towards the teacher, the person who cannot say much or more than that is that he/she work by the rules and the atmosphere these kid’s live in do not. Hence they become either easy targets or compassionate shell.

Director Laurent Cantet makes it as realistic as a film can be. There are no inspiring stories, not the Hollywood cheer leader style and there are no breakthrough method which gets Mr. Marin to connect with his kids. He is patient, soft and makes his class interesting. Not alone talking with the grammatical bore the language comes and needs but with the regular debates and entertaining projects he gives. But these are not the kids who will leave him soft.

Everything erupts around the class. Always a retaliation and the students never ever give up on talking back. Being a teacher is the toughest job to build up for. On one hand you have the ego of being the elder person and the expectancy to be respected. On the other hand you have the kids going ballistic on every thing and pushing all the right buttons to get the worst reaction possible. In between these, a teacher has to sense the atmosphere and do the right thing which is easier said. Mr. Marin is pushed into those territory every moment when he steps in his class. How can we educate a kid when they go to great lengths to refuse it? More than that how bad it makes you feel when they are instinctive and impulsive in those things and more egoistic than yourself?

“The Class” is a step by step process wherein the kids break Mr. Marin. These kids are brilliant when they work their magic. They are all given the project of writing a self-portrait. The project is given to express more than where they live and what they like but about their personality and what makes them tick. François wants to read their mind and get an honest opinion so he can justify himself of going further. Souleymane the least expected candidate for a novel idea comes up with intriguing photographs of his family and friends. Mr. Marin succeeds in it but fails miserably as we go on.

The students are nice and attentive when they are held by their teacher’s command in a subject. My disobedient times as a student in colleges were due to the lack of respect I had for the staffs. Majority of them were a fresh graduate and did not have a clue about the subject or keeping our attentions straight. It is not their fault, they needed a job and they got one easily through the college I went. But it changed once in a while. We remained silent despite not understanding a single word from a lecturer because her hard work was evident in her details of conducting a class.

What “The Class” becomes is a game of respect. The clashes of ego and beyond that comes the emotions and the reality outside of the school which never gets shown. Everything in the film happens in the school compound. The staff meetings, the issues of having a coffee maker and teachers breaking down. François is put in the spot when the time comes and he explodes. He insults couple of his kids and it leads to an an expected violence. The kids with so much potential throw away their future and you have no one to blame than the society. It cannot get more tragic and touger to be a school teacher in an inner city public school. It is where you see the students at the verge of becoming an adult and sealing themselves with the fate they might want at that moment but is a disaster for rest of their lives. The sad part of being the teacher apart from the miseries is to watch these kids go through with that and there is nothing in the world you can do about it. “The Class” is funny, witty, tragic and sadly realistic.

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