April 28, 2009 -- This French film is an astonishing achievement for writer-actor François Bégaudeau who adapted his own book for the screenplay and also stars in this absorbing film about the challenges of teaching in a public school. Although this is a French film, American teachers and students will no doubt find that it resonates with them just as well. It is probably the same story in many countries.
François Bégaudeau stars as François Marin, a teacher in a tough Parisan school that serves as a dumping ground for students who get kicked out of other schools. The film follows Marin through a challenging school year. Marin is a good, experienced teacher, but he is not perfect. He demands respect from his students, but doesn't get it, and he loses his temper sometimes and says things to the students that he should not. In one climactic scene, he insults two girls in his class and has a physical confrontation with another student, resulting in another student being injured. At a school hearing involving the incident, a student's mother tries to talk to the teachers, but doesn't speak their language. Marin teaches French, but this is a second language for some of his students. The cultural differences among his students are also significant. A fight nearly erupts during a class when students get into an argument over soccer teams from different countries, including Mali, where one troubled student is from.
The film's depiction of life at the school seems very realistic, probably because it is based on François Bégaudeau's own experiences teaching literature in a school very much like the one depicted in this film. Bégaudeau does a great job playing the teacher and is not afraid to portray both his character's strengths and flaws. He is very good at portraying the subtle moral dilemmas of his character. The actors playing the children in the classroom are equally effective, covering a range of raw emotions from anger to sadness and joy. There is nothing phony or stagey about this film. There are no soaring speeches or high dramatic scenes that seem manufactured, artificial or out of place. Almost all of the important scenes in the film take place in one classroom. In that regard it is like a play. The film does not stray into peripheral areas like the home life of the teacher or the home lives of students either, or even into relationships between the students or between the teachers or administrators. The film revolves almost entirely around the teacher-student dynamics of the classroom. In that sense it is more like a character study or a slice of life than a drama. This is definitely the film that anyone should see before making a decision to become a teacher. This film rates a B+.
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