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.
I had the normal upbringing with regard to movies, which is to say I went occasionally but nobody, including me, made too big a deal out of them. That changed in my mid-twenties, when I lived, for a brief and unhappy year, in Chicago. I knew few people, didn’t have a lot of work, was lonely, and needed to entertain myself. I discovered that I loved going to movies alone. That they left me in a contemplative, introspective state of mind that I really enjoyed.
When I moved to New York and began freelancing, I found that going to movies helped me write. I’d review my notes on a story, go to a movie, come back, sit down and the story—which had nothing at all to do with the movie—would just pour out. Maybe I was letting my subconscious work while the rest of my brain enjoyed itself. Maybe it was that contemplative state of mind I was talking about. Who knows? The only thing I really knew for sure was that it worked.
When I was writing my first book, I often saw a movie every morning as a prelude to the afternoon’s work. That meant I saw A LOT of movies, some great, some awful. You can’t be too picky when you’re seeing movies at that pace. My favorite movie experience during that time was when I went to see “Lord of the Rings.”
I had not read the books. It was long. I hadn’t read any reviews—I almost never read reviews (too many spoilers, and the critics’ views have a way of worming their way into your brain). I wasn’t totally thrilled about it, but I had few other choices. It was lunchtime, and on the way I stopped, on impulse, at Murray’s and got a sesame bagel with whitefish salad. And I picked up my customary enormous diet coke on the way in.
Well. The movie was beautiful—it was shot in New Zealand—and enormously entertaining. It had Ian Mackellan in it (a big plus), and the bagel with whitefish salad and (it almost goes without saying) the diet coke were sublime. And it was a LONG movie. So I really got to relish the experience. It was, in short…perfection. And that, my friends, is how this blog--which is, in essence, a movie lover's diary--got its name.