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"The Class (Entre Les Murs)"

Directed by Laurent Cantet.
Written by François Bégaudeau.
Starring François Bégaudeau and a bunch of ragtag French kids.
Release Year:  2008
Review Date:  3/16/09


Nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film award at this year's Oscars, I knew that "The Class" was good in at least a few people's eyes...Meg and I took in a matinee over the weekend and I thought the film was aces.

That's because no matter where you go, inner city schools in Paris and L.A. have many of the same problems, and in taking a view of one school year at a school in a tough part of town, "The Class" gives us the daily battle that is the life of Mr. Marin (François Bégaudeau, playing a fictional version of himself as this is based on his life as a teacher) as he tries to teach French and life lessons to a multi-ethnic group of teens.  (The teens are actual students, although it is unclear to me if they were actual students of Bégaudeau's or another teacher.)  Some kids have problems at home; some kids have VISA problems at home.  Other kids don't know how to treat other kids of their own race, or if there is treatment required at all.  There isn't a single scene where one kid passes a note to another kid in the class whom he/she "likes."  The teacher commiserates with other teachers, and in a couple of scenes, teachers openly express frustration with the motivation of the youths in their respective classes.

There is a ton of stuff in "The Class", and you will be shocked how cliché-free the film half expect there to be at least one scene where a gang of the students bully up somebody else, or someone has an uncomfortable "I Don't Know WHAT a Condom Is!" sequence with the school nurse, or if Coolio is going to show up to break up "Gangsta's Paradise."  There's no campaign for class president or cheerleaders or jocks or kids sexting during class (although, cell phones do make an appearance).  Nope..."The Class" is purely about the stuff in the classroom, and I was amazed at how much mileage the movie got out of its young un-actor-filled cast and the still-surprising decision that the director made to cast the book's author in the movie as the teacher.  I mean, it all works, and it won the best film award at the Cannes Film Festival last year (even IF there was a bit of a hometown lean on that one, eh?).

Even though this is required material for anyone working within the walls of any school anywhere (past or present), I really thought "The Class" was excellent and told a very well-layered story of what it might be like to teach kids in this day and age.  Tasty!

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 03/16/09