Compare and contrast Laurent Cantet’s terrific The Class with Mr. Holland’s Opus and Dangerous Minds. Note the structural similarities: misbehaving students, a charismatic educator who wants them to succeed, and big thoughts about the classroom as an urban microcosm. Discuss the difference between Hollywood’s triumphal individualism and Cantet’s delicate examination of what counts as success—and failure—in a representative corner of the global village. Played with febrile vitality by François Bégaudeau—a teacher who adapted The Class, with Cantet and Robin Campillo, from his own novel—François, a junior high school teacher in a moderately high-risk area of Paris, uses language as a kind of dance that suits the scattered attention spans and compulsive backtalk of the multi-culti grab bag (played by work-shopped students) that is his class. Cantet, who also made the extraordinary Time Out, builds thickly detailed experiential worlds through which he slowly leaks the pressing problems of our age—in this case, the changing meaning of education in a heavily immigrant environment where a unifying culture has all but broken down. At the end of a very long day, François may have scored some pedagogic victories and one human failure, and we watch the teacher’s retreating back, on which rests nothing less than the fragility of democracy in a racial tinderbox.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 28, 2009