Friday, December 11, 2009

The Class

2006’s The Class tells the story of one school year in Francois’s French class at an urban Paris school. It’s clear from the outset this school is a little rough and the students are almost uniformly misbehaved and behind where they ought to be for their age. As the year goes on the students grow, learning more about themselves and their teacher as they go along. And a necessary part of this complex yearly traditional evolution is their teacher also stretching, growing and evolving. This movie was a sensation when it came out. It was France’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language film Oscar and it won 2006’s Palm d’Or. To this day it has over a 90% rank on Rotten Tomatoes. The problem I had was that I felt like I’d seen this story before, too many times and, in fact, had seen better versions of it. As an American movie watcher, the story of a group of hard knock students finding themselves thanks to a more-dedicated-than-the-rest teacher is old news…big time. Without even going into the countless episodes of television and TV specials (I’m looking at you after school specials from the 70’s and 80’s), there are tons of great movies of this sort already out there, from Dangerous Minds to Blackboard Jungle to Stand and Deliver to Dead Poet’s Society to Goodbye Mr. Chips and the list goes on and on. It’s not that someone can’t come up with a new flick in this formula that can engage me, it’s just that it would have to be damn good to do so and this just wasn’t that damn good. It’s not awful though. The man playing Francois IS Francois the actual teacher who wrote the memoir on which the film is based. That made it seem pretty darn genuine, as did the casting of teenage non-actors to play the kids in the classroom. My biggest complaint is that the movie focuses way to much on interactions between the teacher and certain students. They don’t develop or give closure to almost anything. They will build up a story line, like so-and-so should be expelled, but his abusive father may do awful things to him (including shipping him off to Africa) if we expel him, but then the movie doesn’t even discuss the matter at all after a certain scene. It’s like, oh, we’re done talking about that, back to the classroom. Maybe this is because this is how school is for teachers, but for me, the viewer, I thought it just felt like I didn’t get connected to almost anything or anyone that happened in the movie. Everything’s just way too underdeveloped. I ended the movie not even knowing where this school was, what time of year it was, what sort of school it was, what grade anyone’s in and all this is not even to mention not knowing almost anything about any of the characters at all. So, if you want to be like one of those faculty observers from high school who used to come sit in class for a week or so simply watching, then this is your movie. This movie is about sitting in on five or so classes from a year of school and just watching. This made it somewhat interesting but not nearly interesting enough for me.
Saturday Afternoon