THE CLASS

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Overall Impression – This year’s Palm D’Or winner offers great insight into the relationship between teachers and students.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS

Who’s your main character? – Francois.

What’s he trying to accomplish? – Professional: teach the school’s curriculum to his students. Personal: define his relationship with his students.  Private: find the value in what he’s trying to teach.

Who’s trying to stop him? – The students, the school’s policies, and himself.

What happens if he fails? –  Francois’ reputation is on the line.  Additionally, his students will never appreciate the value of learning, sabotaging their own futures.

THE FOUR ARCHETYPES

Orphan – As the class’s new teacher, Francois is the outsider.

Wanderer – Francois launches into the school’s syllabus, only to be bombarded with questions about what the students are learning and why they’re learning it.  While Francois’s lack of answers exposes genuine problems with the school’s system, his attempts to get the know the students are also met with limited success.

Warrior – Francois figures the students might be more receptive to a friend rather than an authority figure, so he steps up his efforts to get to know them: he meets their parents, he has them write self-reflective reports, and begins to understand their place in the class’s social hierarchy. However, conflicts soon arise, both among the students and between student and teacher, resulting in Francois snapping violently.

Martyr – While Francois admits his mistake to the school board and faces the consequences, another student becomes the unwilling martyr when the board allocates blame on him, avoiding any unpleasantness for a fellow teacher.

AND, IN THE END…

I found THE CLASS fascinating in a number of ways, especially its style.  Filmed like a documentary, but based on an autobiographical book by Laurent Cantet (who played an alternate version of himself as Francois), the movie offers an in-depth, colorful and completely unpredictable character study that feels incredibly real.

Francois wants to befriend his students, yet he’s their teacher… which makes him the enemy! How can he teach his students when they have no real connection?  How can he develop this connection without violating certain boundaries?  It’s a minefield!

Thankfully, THE CLASS isn’t one-sided, gracefully allowing us to identify with student and teacher alike.

On the one hand, we’re with Francois: we know nothing about these kids, but we want to.  His WANDERER and WARRIOR journeys are as frustrating and rewarding for him as they are for us.  On the other hand, I’m sure most of us have questioned certain knowledge forced upon us in school.  We’ve also experienced environments in which we’re too shy, guarded or disconnected to reveal who we really are.

Placing us between these two groups, yet making us part of both creates a wonderful moment when the students read their reports: not only does Francois learn about the kids, but they learn new things about their own classmates.

I should also mention how, through great use of an unwilling MARTYR, THE CLASS skillfully conveyed the injustice present in some school systems.  When the board blames a student for Francois’s outburst (something both he and Francois know to be flawed), the sense of wrongness that’s created is palpable.  The tragic thing is, Francois totally sympathizes with the students.  He just can’t act on it… he’s a teacher.

– Dan Pilditch

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