Fixating again on thorny economic, race and age-related power dynamics, Laurent Cantet peeks inside an urban French public school classroom and finds ubiquitous tension in The Class. Asked what his favorite part of the school year was, a French student discusses learning about shifting tectonic plates, an apt remark for a film deeply engrossed with the continually changing relationships between teachers, students, parents and administrators, all of whom prove less driven by a singular goal – the education of juveniles – than by a variety of impulses including (but not limited to) self-interest, prejudice, anger and fear. The early-going’s air of non-fiction realism is aided not only by Cantet’s intimate (if somewhat aesthetically lackluster) fly-on-the-wall direction but also by his non-professional cast, who – led by French teacher Mr. Marin, played by Francois Begaudeau, who also wrote the book upon which the narrative is loosely based – uniformly come across as spontaneous and real. Only once venturing outside the school’s walls, and primarily situated in Mr. Marin’s classroom, The Class resembles a smaller-scale variation on season four of HBO’s The Wire in that it evenhandedly investigates the myriad internal and external forces that hamper educators from carrying out their duty and students from successfully thriving – from difficulties at home to ethnic/racial strains (a prime facet of contemporary Parisian life) to philosophical educational differences between staff members. Cantet doesn’t single out any one issue but rather implicates a confluence of forces for impeding educational efforts, although his film isn’t a stinging accusation as much as a lamenting survey. In its third act, The Class’ unaffected free-form narrative is slightly destabilized by a more overtly plotted incident (and ensuing fallout). Yet even at its most scripted, Cantet’s latest – boasting a clarity and consistency of vision that’s as bracing as its naturalistic performances – is vigorous, incisive, immediate.
(2008 New York Film Festival)