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TO SIR: BUT WITHOUT THE LOVE

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 2 MARCH 2009 Entre les Murs (The Class) was first of all a book by François Bégaudeau, who worked in collaboration with Laurent Cantet to make a film which was subsequently, and to the surprise of many, awarded the Palme d'Or at the Festival of Cannes, 2008.

Bégaudeau, the main character, is a French teacher at a problem school in the 20th arrondissement in one of the most difficult areas of Paris, and the entire film takes place within the school's four walls. Cantet has filmed a lively, multicultural class of adolescents between fifteen and sixteen years old from September to June, in a film that is by turns violent, comic and controversial. Acted out entirely by energetic young non-professionals, it never falls into the trap of caricature or stereotype. However, it was not exactly a commercial success in France, and upon asking around I found few people who had actually taken the trouble to go and see it. Why?


Entre les Murs (The Class)
Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Is it the movie-going experience (undoubtedly challenging) or is it this particular subject matter (peculiarly able to inspire passions among the French)? Does a story of the struggles and vicissitudes of children from fragile and broken homes hold no appeal for film lovers, or is it the story of these particular children that had cinephiles choosing instead to sit through yet another Batman movie? Certainly Entre les Murs is a film where no one has much hope for the future, where everyone is attacking everyone else, and where there is constant confrontation between the pupils and their teacher, a man who makes mistakes and is certainly cut from entirely different cloth than Sidney Poitier's noble character in To Sir, With Love. (Indeed, that film and Blackboard Jungle might be considered this film's god-parents.)


Entre les Murs (The Class)
Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Sadly, those cinema goers who are aware of these problems learn nothing new from Entre les Murs, while those who are not aware, have their ignorance reinforced by the fact that they don't want to know about it. Why should the comfortable, (right-wing?) middle-classes go to the cinema to see a bunch of violent, badly brought up kids, using bad language to insult their teachers?


Entre les Murs (The Class)
Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The film has been intelligently scripted, and both the teacher and kids are more than human, whether in the classroom, playground, staff-meetings or at pupil/teacher reunions, but the fact it won the Palme d'Or puzzles many people who consider it more of a documentary, and a somewhat lightweight one at that. The most one can say is that it offers comfort to everyone. Comfort to teachers and social workers who have worked in deprived areas and see they are not alone, and comfort to those who want to remain indifferent because it proves the point that these adolescents are indeed, "racaille" (scum), as Nicolas Sarkozy (when Minister of the Interior), once described them.

Patricia Boccadoro is a senior editor at Culturekiosque.

BOOK TIP: All titles are chosen by the editors as being of interest to Culturekiosque readers.

"Have You Seen . . . ?": A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films
By David Thomson

Hardcover: 1024 pages
Knopf; 1 edition (October 2008)
ISBN-10: 0307264610
ISBN-13: 978-0307264619
$39.95

CALENDAR TIP

New York

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2009
5 - 15 March 2009
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Walter Reade Theater
65th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenues
New York, NY
Tel: (1) 212 875 56 00

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