I woke up early yesterday morning, made myself a cup of coffee, and was prepared to begin reading a new book, when behold! The Encore channel finally has something that actually catches my eye! I read the quick snapshot of the film, Entre Les Murs (The Class), and was intrigued. Set in Paris, it is based on the autobiography of a teacher named François Bégaudeau, who has been assigned to an inner city school to teach French Literature.
I was initially drawn to the story and then as I watched, I enjoyed that it was filmed like a documentary. The ethnically diverse class of immigrant students argued over class topics, their favorite soccer teams, and basic childish clashes. Since students were originally from China to Morocco to Mali, the conversation they had on why they should support the French soccer team versus their original country was particularly interesting. They struggled to complete a class project, one that was not the norm for the traditional curriculum. The project was to write out who they were as a person, who their family was, and what made them tick. This became a challenge to several students who were not only used to being taught in a traditional manner that they were raised on, but were students who had a tough time with standard studies anyway. Since French education is based on a very strict model of long-established formal instruction and all teachers are expected to follow the requirements, this particular class found the lesson even tougher to grasp. A teacher is not expected to deviate from this format and be even a little creative.
I found out later that the teacher, François Bégaudeau, in the film is the author and actual teacher in the story, and that the students in the class are not trained actors. I enjoyed this and in thinking back on it, it adds even more to the film's documentary feel.
I did struggle with one aspect -- the entire film was dubbed with voice overs...I find that never quite captures the emotion of what is actually happening. Just a week ago, watching Paris, J'taime, I recalled my initial fear of subtitles, and now I missed those subtitles. I yearned for them. The voice over dubbing sometimes seemed silly and I started to think of bad kung fu flicks. I sipped a little more coffee and tried to remind myself to listen past it and instead enjoy. It was a challenge.
One scene was particularly touching and I felt was truly the moment that defined the film for me. A young student, Souleyman from Mali, who is considered the class troublemaker, doesn't like writing, or speaking, about himself for the assigned project. True to his character always going against the grain, he instead decides to take pictures of his friends and his family. This is how he chooses to represent himself, versus writing it out in a few paragraphs. Was it another opportunity to be different one more time, or was he honestly completing the project with no other motive? The actor, Franck Keïta played his character at one particular moment that was breathtaking. The teacher decided to put up the pictures for the entire class to review. Franck Keïta's character goes through the entire range of emotions so expressively with such genuineness that I was completely stunned -- his face and body language went from nervousness to timidity, and then to sudden pride and his eyes lit up as his work is acknowledged and he is complimented for his work, possibly for the first time in his school career. This actor was brilliant in that particular moment. Absolutely brilliant.
Good questions are asked by this film: Who is the real problem in the school system? The kids? Or is it the system itself that has let them down and created children who have no interest in the subjects being taught?
But, sadly, I found that the end of the movie was just...empty. There is a poignant scene between François and a student, but I walked away disappointed. I did want to know what happened to a few students, particularly Souleyman, who were critical to the final scenes, but it wasn't explained. There were so many parts of the movie that I truly loved and enjoyed, but I was so disappointed because the ending just fell flat to me. Was that an artistic ending, or did I just miss the point? What about you? Have you ever found that the end of a movie delicately walked the line between being artistic and just being disappointing?