The Class: A Movie Review

In This Essay

The Class
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

My friends have been very supportive of my goal of becoming a teacher. Most of them have offered words of encouragement.

One recommended a movie.

The Class sounded as though it would be relevant to me. I was excited to watch it. François is French teacher in Paris, teaching inner city kids about language, literature, and life. Change that only a few things, and you have me: Matthew wants to be an English teacher in Boston, teaching inner city kids about language, literature, and life.

Too bad I didn’t much like the movie.

Real Life on the Silver Screen

The Class is an adaptation of a French autobiographical novel, Entre les murs, or Between These Walls by François Bégaudeau.

The screenplay was written by François Bégaudeau as well.

And in an instance of art imitating life, François Bégaudeau plays himself in the film.

After earning a degree in Literature, François Bégaudeau taught for a few years. He worked with inner city kids in Paris, mainly African immigrants as I understand. From this experience, he wrote the novel.

Too Much Time on My Hands

The movie lacked what Aristotle called “Unity of Time.”

Well, strictly speaking Aristotle’s “Unity of Time” requires that the entire action of a drama takes no more than twenty-four hours. What drama besides those of Sophocles meet that requirement? Not even Shakespeare faithful complied with Aristotelian “Unity of Time.”

Successful films create their own sense of a unity of time. The Departed takes place over several months, for example, but the transitions are such that it creates a sense of flow. As a scene begins to unfold, we know that time has passed since the last scene, and we don’t know how much, but we also don’t need to know.

But The Class failed to create this unified sense of time. The movie begins with François walking into the school for staff introductions prior to the school year beginning, continues with François greeting the students, jumps to some weeks into the school year, and then ends with François asking his students what they learned throughout the year.

The jumps are jarring. I found myself wondering when scenes were taking place, wondering how much time had elapsed because here the time in between seemed important.

I felt the lost in time. When the final scene commenced and François was asking his students what they learned during the course of the year, I wondered how we got to that point. I could not enjoy the content of the scene because I was busy trying to piece together the story’s time line.

A Mini-Series Crammed into One Movie

The movie tried to do too much as well.

Two interrelated principles of art are point of view and selection. In creating a work of art, whether visual arts or literary arts, the artist needs to exercise discretion in the amount of material included in the work.

In quickly recalling the movie, I can think of three or four distinct stories he tries to weave together. I might find more if I were to watch the film again and take note of each storyline. François Bégaudeau did not succeed in focusing the work. These stories could have stood alone as separate movies.

One story involves a student named Khoumba refusing to read. No one else in the class read the tract that François had assigned; so, he asks Khoumba to read aloud. She feels singled out and fights with François in front of the class. He asks her to stay after the bell, he writes her up in her discipline notebook, and demands that she apologize, which she does so that she can leave only to tell him it was an insincere apology once she exits his classroom. She writes François a letter, telling him that he crossed the line and stating that she will not participate in his class.

Yet, without revealing how he reconciled the situation, within a few scenes of him reading the letter, Khoumba shows no ill will towards François and is participating in the class as if the previous incident did not happen.

Lessons to Learn Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

One movie jumped immediately to mind when I thought about how time was covered in The Class.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring is a South Korean movie about the life a Buddhist monk from his childhood through his old age. Much more time is covered in this movie, but the handling was much more graceful. The director focused on a few days during each period of his life, the most significant days in each period, and clearly demarcated the different chapters of the movie with a title in between.

If The Class had employed a similar technique and had dropped one or two of the stories, the film might have seemed a complete work. As it was, The Class dragged. I found myself asking, “What is the point of this scene? Where did this come from?”

…And Yet

The Class did receive high praise and did win awards, both as a novel and as a film.

I wanted to like the film. Though I have never been an urban classroom, I feel like I know something more about what to expect than I did before I watched the film.

I will not frequently watch this film. After a year or two of teaching, I will give it another chance. Perhaps I will have aged enough to more deeply appreciate the film.

What’s Your Opinion?

Have you seen the film? What was your opinion?

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