Of the five films nominated for the best Foreign Language film at this years Oscars this year two received theatrical releases in the UK, Waltz with Bashir and The Baader Meinhof Complex (in my opinion the second best German film of the year, I would have gone for The Wave). Of the other three Okuribito (from Japan and the winner of the Oscar) and Revanche (Austria) have not appeared in any form, the final film The Class allegedly went on general release in February. Failing to find a cinema that showed the film on its theatrical release I have just caught up with it on DVD.
The film is sat mainly within the walls of a French classroom in a racially diverse Parisian school. We only ever see the teachers and pupils at school and never at home or in their lives away from school, this and the way the film is shot almost give it a documentary feel as we get to know the teacher and his class. The really interesting thing about the film is the teacher Fancois Marlin; he is played by Francois Begaudeau who also wrote the screenplay for the film, based on his own book that in tern was based on his own experiences as a teacher. No wonder we get such a sense of realism! This is helped by the production with many improvised scenes using multiple cameras that are turned into long scenes depicting the teaching process.
The class is full of tension as the class fall out over many subjects including race, identity and football. The really film leaves many things unanswered (to its credit), the one question I kept asking myself was how do the kids get on in other classes? Marlin seems genuinely interested in the kids and their education, how are they getting on with the other teachers? We only see them in the staff room and not in class but some of them seem to have given up or lost interest. The later stages of the film concentrate on the discipline and disciplining of one particular student that is certain to create debate amongst viewers. At the end of the film a real sense of optimism is created then destroyed by a conversation the Marlin has with one of the students. If you haven’t realised it before now you will instantly realise we are dealing with something far more gritty and up to date than Dead Poets Society. Often challenging, sometimes infuriating but always compelling; not unlike a good lesson at school, you may not exactly enjoy it but you will definitely get something out of it. As well as the aforementioned Oscar nomination the film also won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the first French film to win since Sous le soleil de Satan in 1987.