Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Class

Read a synopsis of this movie on Moviefone or Fandango and you're likely to go...eh, maybe I'll see Doubt again. The idea behind The Class is not so riveting--watch a teacher wrangle with a bunch of 13 and 14 year old French kids, trying to teach them the finer points of the language over the course of a school year. But if you, as I did, decide that there must be something behind the talk about this movie and go so far as to buy a ticket, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

The kid actors are amazing--so real it feels like a documentary. The teacher, Francois Begaudeau, who is playing a fictionalized version of himself, is also thoroughly convincing. I would say that's hardly surprising, except I think it would actually be hard to play a slightly fictionalized version of yourself. Which parts do you fictionalize?

The movie, incidentally, is based on a book written by Begaudeau, and he also helped write the screenplay. And the realism of the performances? The product of a year long process of improvisational workshops. I don't know what impresses me more--the idea, and the committment to making it feel so real, or the final product.

There are a lot of things to chew on here:

What's the better way to be, as a teacher, with unruly kids--understanding and flexible? Or strict and no-nonsense?

Should teachers be authority figures or friends?

When do you give up on a kid?

And how do you impose one identity (in this case, French--though there are certainly parallels in our country) on an increasingly diverse population? And how do they take to that? We see that process at work here, via what would be any culture's most difficult sell--13 and 14 year-old kids. (Having heard some horror stories, mostly second-hand, about well-intentioned friends of friends who attempted to teach in the New York City school system, I actually expected these kids to be a lot tougher.)

I liked this film a lot, was thoroughly engaged while watching it, admire the way it was made--but I have to confess I haven't thought about it that much since leaving the theater. I don't know why. I did really like it.

For those of you who want to read more about this film, I think the Times did a really nice review, which I just stumbled across.

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