March 02, 2009

Entre les murs

The Class (Entre les murs in French, I have no knowledge of why they chose not to translate the title directly for the English) is an interesting film. I'm not sure that it says anything particular though. It tells the story of one class and their teacher going through an academic year: there are individual story arcs and strong characters- Khoumba a self proclaimed 'insolent' student whose rebellions fuel one part of the film, rebellious Souleyman from Mali sitting at the back of the class with his hood carelessly cast over his head, Wey the class swot who loves the computer, Esmerelda the class representative who is ready to shout back at anyone and anything, we could go on. The characters are all well drawn and distinct- but somehow the class still manages to come together as an entity and seems to have a group identity rather than being a collection of individuals.

As opposed to the students- often in this innercity school rowdy and undisciplined- we have the teachers. We see this group mainly through the lead teacher, M Marin, who has a definite personality and is well played indeed. He has both the humour and charisma of a good teacher- though too at particular points he confronts you with the difficulties of being a teacher. The other teachers too are nicely drawn- they have lives outside the classroom- and gripes which are unrelated to the classroom about their jobs (the rising price of coffee from 40 to 50 centimes in the staff coffee machine) and have their frustrations. They seem to be a good group- but they also have their frustrations with this group of students, fury can convulse the staff room and M. Marin can kick his chair as a student departs without understanding what he is trying to do. They arouse your sympathy- but they also are human and fallible. If the portrait of the children is good, then that of the teachers is absolutely perfect: the filmmakers have made them admirable and fallible- a difficult combination to pull off but one that they have succeeded in performing.

The Class is a good portrait of both sides of the battle between teachers and students. The curious thing about the film is that it reveals rightly the fragility of the situation, the students and teachers cooperate together and it produces good things. The students and teachers fail to cooperate and tempers flare and then disaster strikes. Students can always beleive that the school is run against them: sometimes as in the disciplinary committee here they have some reason. However they can also get it entirely wrong: M Marin is a voice of sympathy to the students and is ridiculed for his harshness, for trying to get a pupil expelled. There is no message here so much as an observation and its an accurate one- and an interesting one. It is worth watching definitely.