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Home: Dubai Film Festival 2004: Day 7: The Class

What makes The Class unique, unlike other films that have been made about pedagogy and the art of teaching, is that it doesn’t explore the movie myth of one teacher making a difference and changing the world. Some students can never be helped, even if repeatedly assisted. Others are good because they put in the effort and a teacher is able to accentuate the better qualities of his more promising students while trying to guide any who have gone off-track. The setting of The Class takes place entirely within a school. We never venture outside the school premises, and everything happens in either one of two locations; the classrooms or the teacher’s staff room.

The school in question is set in a rough multicultural suburb of Paris, and the focus is on a teacher of French and his tough, demanding students. The scenes in the classroom are wordy and verbose. They are at first nothing but a collection of highly engaging, almost mesmerizing discussions, one after the other, subliminally interconnected, between a bunch of curious, frank children in their mid teens and their teacher who is direct, upfront and somehow, extremely patient and polite with his subjects. The discussions in class effortlessly flow from one topic to another and eventually lead to further discussions that the teachers have with each other after class ends. A simple sentence construction exercise in one class for example, leads to many questions about ethnicity and race. This is the films crux and it is a marvelous joy to watch. The actor playing the teacher, François Bégaudeau, is in fact both the writer of the screenplay and book on which it is based, a collection of his real life experiences as a teacher himself for many years. All of this shows in the natural flow of the humor, and occasional bursts of chaos in conversations which touch upon many of the aspects and politics of school life.

The Class convinced me of two things; that the job of a teacher is always difficult and that they aren’t superhuman. Like anyone else, they are prone to mistakes and often regret how they handle a particular situation. The single incident that occurs, and there really is only one, with everything else before seeming to lead to this point, stems from something that Francois says in class that the students passionately object to. By the time this has happened, we’ve spent so much time in the class with all of them that we know who might say what and it feels both real and believable. If by the time this occurs, the film has sucked you in with its authenticity, you will be pleasantly rewarded by the exploration of the many complexities of a realistic school life unlike any you might have seen before. - by Faizan Rashid [Rated 4.5 out of 5]

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