Sony Pictures Classics
Opens in NY on 12 December
Opens in LA on 25 December
The Palme d’Or is the greatest thing a filmmaker can hope for at Cannes. Winning it, however, does not necessarily mean that your film is going to do big business in mainstream America. Since the award was conceived in 1955, many stateside directors have received the honor, including Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, the Cohen brothers, Steven Soderberg, Gus Van Sant and Michael Moore. The last few years though, have gone to Belgium, the UK, Romania and France this year for “The Class.” In other words, not so much cross-over with the American crowd of late. I would like to say that I’m hopeful that “The Class” would be different, but really, anything with subtitles tends to get shoved to the dirty corners of art house cinemas.
Laurent Cantent’s film is a glimpse into a Parisian middle school on the precipice. The student body is beyond unruly. It’s the kind of disrespect for teachers and fellow classmates that makes “Dangerous Minds” look timid by comparison. François Bégaudeau penned the screenplay from his novel, “Entre les Murs” and he also plays the teacher in the film. The kids are a rowdy lot, and watching the way in which anyone can get through to them is rather incredible. 3000 young actors were screened to ultimately bring us the few characters we see in the film, each of whom has a fascinating back story, wholly different from that of his or her peers.
More than anything, “The Class” is a case study of the world’s youth on the brink of disaster. The documentary feel of Cantet’s handheld moves and super-tight close ups only accentuate the reality of the situation. Despite the fact that we are watching actors read a script, it may as well be seeing a reality show that no one would watch, because it is just too demoralizing. The film making, on the other hand, is just exquisite in its minimalism, and something we should all be watching as part of the global dialog on a culture that is changing faster that anyone is able to register.