by ALISTAIR BOMPHRAY
There are a lot of teacher movies out there that “ain’t the business.” Here’s one that is.
The best thing I can say about The Class is that it made me feel the highs and lows of a year in the classroom. To the movie’s credit, that’s also the worst thing I can say about it. It was excruciating.
Excruciatingly real. Excruciatingly ambiguous. Excruciatingly f’d up.
The Class is the story of a racially diverse classroom in a tough Parisian neighborhood. It takes place over the course of a single school year, beginning with the teacher’s arrival and ending with an empty classroom after the last day.
The teacher, M. Marin, is a sympathetic character, but no hero. As a fourth year teacher, he is good, but not great. He is adroit in some scenes, and frustratingly limited in others. He is kind-hearted, but aloof. Clever, but too reliant on sarcasm.
The students are real students. They are brilliant and funny and mean and sensitive—in short, all of the things I’ve come to expect from my own students.
What really sets this movie apart is its no BS handling of the material. There is no heavy-handed moralizing, no Jesus Christs, no villains, no feel-good ending. We are presented with a portrait of a class, a teacher, a school, and left to draw our own conclusions.
The original French title of the movie is Entre les murs which literally translates to “between the walls.” In fact, the movie never leaves the walls of the school. For two hours, we are there with M. Marin as he struggles to negotiate the challenges of his own classroom and the politics of the school.
As a teacher, it felt a little suffocating. I mean, going home after school is a pretty important part of who I am as a teacher. Yes, I am a teacher. But I am also a son, a friend, a writer, a lousy basketball player, an aspiring naturalist, a teller of ghost stories.
Ostensibly, M. Marin goes home too, but we never see it. We only get to know him as a teacher. And we only get to know the students as students. Such is the limited context of the classroom. As teachers, we only know our students as students. And as students, they cannot conceive of us as anything more than teachers. Hence the question, “Mr. B., do you sleep here?”
A problem with most teacher movies is that the classroom scenes feel fake. Every teacher in the room is sitting there with a smirk on their face, thinking, Yeah, right. In The Class, the classroom scenes unfold in real time, sometimes approaching fifteen minutes in length. And, let me tell you, they’re the real deal. It’s as close to being a fly on the wall in a real classroom as you’re ever going to get.
Again, for a teacher, it was kind of grueling. I genuinely felt exhausted when it was over, as if I had just finished a hard day of teaching. But if you want to see a movie that hits on all the complexities of this difficult and important profession—without spoon-feeding you—this is the one.