Walled In


However tyrannical the reign of superheroes and special effects over the box office, naturalism, even hypernaturalism, is not dead as a cinematic style. Witness two recent films.

The Class, a French Oscar nominee for best foreign-language picture of 2008 and the winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, is certainly an antidote to education-themed weepies such as Freedom Writers, Stand and Deliver, and To Sir, with Love, in which teachers oozing compassion and urging self-respect win the hearts of a roomful of delinquents and wean them away from drugs and gangland wars by...oh, you know the drill, by having them sign contracts to do several hours of homework each week, read Anne Frank’s diary (this gets assigned in The Class, too, but no one seems to get much out of it), and—this is the clincher—write “honest” essays about their families, neighborhoods, hopes, and dreams. Result? Though at least one student winds up riddled with bullets (a wake-up call for the others), everyone else passes finals, some go to college, and all live happily ever after.

The Class will have none of this. For one thing, François Marin, the teacher-protagonist, isn’t really much of a teacher, though he always retains our sympathy. He is played, not by an actor, but by an actual teacher, François Bégaudeau, who wrote the novel that inspired director Laurent Cantet to...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.