Newest Reviews:

New Movies -  

The Tunnel


The Tall Man

Mama Africa





Brownian Movement

Last Ride

[Rec]³: Genesis

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

Indie Game: The Movie

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Old Movies -

Touki Bouki: The Journey of the Hyena

Drums Along the Mohawk

The Chase

The Heiress

Show People

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry



Miracle Mile

The Great Flamarion

Dark Habits

Archives -

Recap: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 , 2005, 2006, 2007 , 2008 , 2009 , 2010 , 2011 , 2012

All reviews alphabetically

All reviews by star rating

All reviews by release year


Screening Log



E-mail me




The Class (Laurent Cantet, 2008)


     Laurent Cantet’s well-intentioned French films have won him a sterling reputation over the last few years. His work tackles social issues head on, unashamedly dramatizing them in a particularly schematic and didactic mode. Taken as a whole, his movies seem less concerned with metaphor than truthful representation, which is considered a strength by many. I fully acknowledge that Cantet’s schoolroom drama, The Class, is precisely the kind of docu-realist, socially motivated work that leaves me cold. It rubs the audience’s nose in a problem, offers little in the way of a real solution, and by its end, for all of its supposed realism, doesn’t feel much more honest or complex than Hollywood drivel like Freedom Writers. It flatters the audience for being present to watch it unfold, substituting mere information for genuine insight. Although The Class remains a diverting, acutely observed film, chock full of energy that comes from its sassy cast of nonprofessional actors, it stumbles egregiously in its third act, with the obtrusive introduction of excess plot. This betrayal suggests that Cantet lacked some level of faith in the dramatic mode that he’s chosen (or, at the very least, faith in his audience). Whereas the first hour of the film allows judgments about characters to develop gradually over time, the final third neuters what’s come before by setting up blunt, false dialectics.


     Similarly, The Class is too unsubtle in its highlighting of the differences in the social class of its teachers and students. Whether the characters are discussing grammar, their choice of reading material, the specter of class conflict is completely inescapable at every moment. This surely is a relevant issue for teachers in such a situation, but the incessant underlining of difference stops feeling astute after a while. Even as the film switches modes to become more urgently obsessed with such issues, there’s precious little development of its class understanding. The Class merely reinforces the perception of otherness, suggesting that the entire educational system encourages and perpetuates it.


     François Bégaudeau wrote The Class screenplay based loosely on his life experience as a teacher and plays the lead. The film is meant to be a self-critical corrective, but it’s ultimately self-serving, suggesting that teaching in a mixed race French school is a feat worthy of beatification. Bégaudeau spends plenty of time pointing out personal foibles, yet never truly challenges his own authority or suggests that he might be a harmful presence. The final sequence improbably invokes Plato’s Republic, suggesting that what we’ve just watched has been a series of Socratic dialogues. That’s a self-serving proposition, and one that completely ignores the imbalance of power that has existed in the classroom throughout the film. It’s so foolhardy that one suspects it might be meant ironically, but nothing Cantet’s filmography supports the notion that he might prize irony over social realism. Certainly, little that has come before in The Class, which primarily consists of glib arguments, good intentions, and dubious caricatures of the people it hopes to portray, suggests subversion. Nonetheless, it’s a strong testament to its crowd-pleasing nature that I’d begrudgingly recommend the movie in spite of its conceptual and ideological shortcomings.



Jeremy Heilman