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Based on an autobiographical novel by François Bégaudeau, a drama that follows the year in the life of a French schoolteacher working at a high-school in a tough neighborhood of Paris. Ethnicities, cultures and attitudes often clash in the classroom. As amusing and inspiring as the teenage students can be, their difficult behavior can still jeopardize any teacher's enthusiasm for the low-paying job. Francois insists on an atmosphere of respect and diligence. Neither stuffy nor severe, his extravagant frankness often takes the students by surprise. But his classroom ethics are put to the test when his students begin to challenge his methods.
For more about The Class and the The Class Blu-ray release, see the The Class Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on August 24, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: François Bégaudeau, Franck Keita, Nassim Amrabt, Esmerelda Ouertani, Laura Baquela, Cherif Bounaidja Rachedi
Director: Laurent Cantet
» See full cast & crew
The Class Blu-ray Review
Prepare to get schooled...
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, August 24, 2009
Most films about education fall into the formulaic, feel good, inspirational teacher genre, where young, idealistic pedagogues buck the system and change lives, imparting their young charges with hope and an infectious can-do spirit. Apparently, us old folks are thoroughly befuddled by today's under-20 set, and these films set out to hold our hands, massage our shoulders, and offer us the cinematic equivalent of Valium—"Take a deep breath, don't worry, we can change them, the next generation isn't going to burn down civilization with their bad music and ill-fitting pants." So, when I queued up The Class, I thought I knew what to expect. Despite it winning the coveted Palme d'Or award at Cannes, I assumed the film would be just another teacher-triumphs-over- urban-adversity story, albeit more intelligent than most and, well, French. I was surprised then to find that The Class subverts the sugary successes so frequent in its genre, presenting instead a much more realistically attuned portrayal of life in an inner-city school.
Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by François Bégaudeau, Entre les murs (Between the Walls), a.k.a. The Class, is the story of one school year in the life of a Parisian teacher and his twenty five diverse and troubled students. Bégaudeau himself plays François Marin, a French teacher at a lower-level junior high, and his intimate knowledge of the material translates into an understated and powerful performance. He clearly knows what he's doing, and it's obvious from every frustrated look and verbal parry that he's been in these kinds of situations before. Likewise, with the students all played by non-professional actors, and much of the dialogue improvised, the film blends reality and artifice almost seamlessly, taking on a documentary-like tone that's far removed from the gritty but undeniably Hollywood strains of, say, Dangerous Minds.
The story is propelled by the progression of the school year, but there isn't much in the way of what could be considered a traditional narrative. Much of the pace is tonal, rather than causal, as each scene explores the collective and individual attitudes of the students regarding race, class, religion, school, and adolescent life in general. The kids are a raucous, rowdy lot, and Marin has to dance a one step forward, two steps back educational jig, as every explanation he gives elicits either blank stares or seemingly unbelievable questions, like when he tells one girl to use her intuition, and she innocently replies, "What's intuition?" Marin sees the best in each student, though, and he has some modest success in getting them to open up when he assigns them to write their own "self portraits." As they give their speeches, we begin to see how the groups and institutions to which they belong shape the dull minutiae of their young lives. When Monsieur Marin teaches the imperfect subjunctive verb conjugation—a highly literary mode that's never used in day-to-day speech—we see the lower-class students struggling with such a bourgeois construction. As immigrants, transplants from everywhere from China to the Caribbean, many of these kids are distanced from "white" French culture, and their place within the school and society at large seems shaky and uncertain. Their only defense is to develop a calloused sense of self and lash out whenever their fortresses of solitude are assailed by peers or authority figures.
Such is the case of 14 year old Souleymane (Frank Keïta), a Mali-born Muslim of African descent, who provides the narrative's only overarching conflict, disrupting nearly every class and eventually becoming unmanageable and potentially violent. After an incident in Marin's class, Souleymane is brought to trial, so to speak, at a disciplinary hearing that will decide whether he should be expelled from school. This puts Marin in a bind, because he knows that, if expelled, Souleymane will be sent by his father back to his village in Mali. If Robin Williams was "O Captain, My Captain" in Dead Poets Society, Marin is alternately the jailer, judge, and executioner of The Class. Though he's an optimist at heart—he really wants the kids to grow and learn, and believes whole-heartedly that they can—the students, especially Souleymane, force him into disciplinary ultimatums that undermine his best intentions and reveal the unspoken moral ambiguity at the cold core of the education system.
In many ways, The Class reminded me of the inner-city school-centric fourth season of HBO's The Wire. In both cases, a well-meaning teacher is dragged through an institutional hell, ultimately realizing the fallibilities of the system and seeing clearly that there are no easy answers, no platitudes or sugar-coated educational theorems that can act as a panacea for the ills of an incredibly complex urban environment. It's not that the system itself is necessarily incompetent—though there's some of that too—but rather that there's a paralyzing dichotomy at play regarding what to do with the kids who don't fit cog-like into the educational machine. It's this kind of bald-faced honesty that separates The Class from the saccharine surplus of other classroom films, but just because Marin doesn't succeed in rousing his students to new heights of academic achievement doesn't mean the film is overtly cynical or dour. Yes, The Class sees the compromises of compulsory education for what they are, but the film also acknowledges that despite the organized chaos—apparent in the final shot of the classroom, empty and in disarray—the kids that make it through the turmoil of junior high will inevitably pass through the system and become productive, well-adjusted members of society. At least, we hope.
The Class Blu-ray, Video Quality
Shot on HD video and then transferred to 35mm film, The Class comes back to digital with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that's filmic and warm. Director Laurent Cantet shot almost the entire film with three cameras—one on Marin, one trained on specific class members about speak, and the other roaming the class for reactions—and the breezy energy of the cuts is complemented by the ever so slightly grainy texture that overlays the image. There isn't a lot of opportunity for variety, considering the film is shot during the day and mostly in one classroom, but colors are saturated and strong, from the robin's egg blue of the back wall to the students' multi-hued school clothes. With no nighttime or darker scenes, black levels never really get a chance to prove themselves, but the contrast throughout the film is tight and only a few degrees hotter than "real life." The transfer has a good deal of clarity, especially in close-ups, but I did notice a handful of scenes that looked significantly softer than others. This could easily be attributable to the difficulty of quickly pulling focus on a hand-held camera, though, and not necessarily an issue with the transfer itself. Overall, this isn't the sharpest or most spectacular Blu-ray to demo your system, but considering the nature of the film, The Class looks great in high definition.
The Class Blu-ray, Audio Quality
I was initially tempted to give The Class detention for arriving unprepared on Blu-ray with a mere Dolby TrueHD 3.0 track. The more I listened, however, the less I missed the presence of the two surround channels. While some immersive ambience would've done a lot to put me in the classroom, so to speak, the front channels have a decent spread and are active with plenty of environmental sounds, like the bustle of recess in the courtyard and the hectic mix of shifting, paper shuffling, and whispering that goes on in any junior high class. Voices are perfectly prioritized, even during the most chaotic classroom fracases, and there are no apparent pops, hisses, or compression issues to report. You might not notice it—it didn't strike me until the film was over— but there's no music in the film whatsoever, and the tension is driven solely by the interactions of the characters onscreen. While there's little depth to the dynamic range, and though the track is pumped through only the front three channels, the audio portion of The Class is suitable for such a small, dialogue-driven film.
The Class Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Audio and Video Scene Commentaries by Director Laurent Cantet and Writer/Actor François Bégaudeau (SD, 39:35)
In a somewhat unusual way of doing a commentary, Cantet and Bégaudeau dissect three scenes from the film (The Imperfect of the Subjunctive, The Courtyard Dispute, and The Disciplinary Board) and, when there's simply too much to say, they pause the video and it cuts instead to footage of the two of them, sitting in front of their video monitor and having a little chat. When they get caught up again they press play, and away we go. After watching the The Class I was impressed by the thought that must have went into it, and the two men prove here to be intelligent and keenly aware of every little nuance they've injected into the film, from linguistic subtleties to under-the-radar Hitchcock references. Fans of the film will definitely find this commentary worth their time.
Making of The Class (SD, 41:43)
Exhaustive and mildly exhausting, this "making of" featurette covers the entire production, from the improv workshops, casting sessions and rehearsals at François Dolto High School, to the premiere screening and the celebratory win at the Cannes Film Festival. Along the way we see loads of behind-the-scenes footage of the filming process, plus interviews with the director and lots of on-set silliness from the kids. I found this a bit much to watch in one chunk, but it's a fitting chronicle of the effort the students went through to fully get into character.
Actors' Workshop (SD, 30:05)
Likewise, this section goes on a bit too long, showing lots and lots of raw footage from the improv workshops that were used to cast the film and prepare the students for the shoot. It's not the most interesting stuff—you're really just seeing the kids practice what they've perfected in the film—but it's there for those who want it.
Actors' Self Portraits (SD, 12:03)
Here we see several of the students read their self portraits against the backdrop of the blackboard.
Theatrical Trailer (1080p, 2:24)
The Class Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Class is that rare film about education that doesn't condescend to its audience by pretending that the problems of inner-city schools can be solved with, I dunno, breakdancing and tough love. The film makes very few missteps—a minor thread about a Chinese student with an illegal immigrant mother gets all but dropped near the end, but that's about it—and so I have no trouble putting The Class on my cinematic honor roll. Highly recommended.
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The Class Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Class Announced for Blu-ray - June 1, 2009
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring Academy Award-nominated film 'The Class' to Blu-ray on August 11th, day-and-date with the DVD release. Video for this French language film will be presented in 2.35:1 1080p AVC accompanied by a ...
• 2008 Cannes Winner 'The Class' Coming to Blu-ray - May 22, 2009
In an early announcement to retailers, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has revealed that it will bring the movie 'The Class' (original French title Entre les murs) to Blu-ray on August 11. Technical specs haven't been disclosed, but you can expect a 1080p 2.35:1 ...
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