Not Your Usual Teacher Movie
For anyone interested in an alternative to the "inspirational teacher movie" (wherein a teacher inspires bad/uncooperative students to embrace the value of academics), director Laurent Cantet gives us The Class, a movie based on a book about the real-life teaching experiences of François Bégaudeau, who plays a version of himself in the film.
Bégaudeau is Mr. Marin, a French language teacher in a middle school in a tough part of Paris; his students are mostly rebellious, distracted, disinterested, and self-absorbed. Marin is no genius at his job, either -- he does his best to facilitate the behavior of his students, allowing them to talk back and debate, even if it diverts from the subject matter at hand, but he also experiences his fair share of frustration, which challenges his protocol of keeping a fair and open mind.
On the surface, The Class will be remembered and praised for its realism, for not pandering to the wishful-thinking audience who would love nothing better than to see the worst of the bad students receive a Hollywood epiphany; its style borders on documentary, with its main actor an actual teacher, and many of the students being played by actual students. It's also a great tool of sympathy for teachers in general, as it shows the faculty at every gathering looking more exhausted and frazzled. But a closer look may reveal it to be a criticism of the current classroom system, a method that becomes increasingly outdated as the students become more globalized, more internationally mixed, and ever more aware of the larger world around them, made more accessible everyday via internet-enabled devices and the media.
Students now develop the idea that there's little a teacher could teach them which they couldn't easily find out for themselves; since many of them have foreign backgrounds, the teacher may also have too much of a barrier to be able to relate to some of them; and the students certainly continue to entertain the notion that exploring their own interests is more valuable to their time than learning forced curriculum. A large number of events in The Class supports these concerns -- it never makes the case that these kids are unteachable or beyond some level of control; rather, it seems to question the continued effectiveness of an old teaching approach and its ability to adapt to new problems as well as modern variations of old ones. The French title of the movie and the book is Entre les murs, meaning "Between the Walls," which explicitly calls a probing attention to the environment itself.
(Released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and rated "PG-13" for language.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.