Page 20 THE VILLADOM TIMES I & III • March 4, 2009 ‘The Class’ highlights classroom drama by Dennis Seuling Anyone who knows about teaching in public schools knows that any classroom on any day has its drama. The drama can take many forms, including students insulting each other or resisting the lesson, perceptions of bias or favoritism, lapses in discipline, or challenges to the teacher’s authority. Hollywood’s view of high school has largely been relegated to teenage sex comedies and broad, outrageous versions of schools that could never exist, at least not on this planet. “The Class” may be the first movie to show what it is like, day to day, for the teacher of an academic subject. In a large school in an impoverished part of Paris, Monsieur Marin (Francois Begaudeau), is trying to impart knowledge of the French language to a group of 14- and 15-year-old ethnically diverse students, many of whom are recent immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East, and several of whom compensate for low self-esteem by acting out. This teacher is likable and serious about his subject. He has a sense of humor and a good rapport with most of his class. Director Laurent Cantet takes a documentary approach, though “The Class” is not a documentary. Begaud- #1 German Restaurant in Bergen & Passaic Counties! KIRKERS WINTER SCHNITZEL-FEST March 5,6,7 & 9 8 Different Schnitzels, Sauerbraten, German Sausages, Fresh Seafood, Prime Rib & Steaks... Something for everyone...including a selection of “smaller plates for the not so hungry” Lunch, New Early Dining & Dinner Menus! Monsieur Marin (Francois Begaudeau) attempts to teach his students grammar in ‘The Class.’ German Beers & Wines • Martinis • Regular Menu Also Available 237 Diamond Bridge Ave, Hawthorne • 973-427-7700 • All Major Credit Cards Accepted • Open Mon - Sat • Noon til 11:30 pm RESTAURANT’S St. Patrick’s Day Celebration in Call: 201-652-0744 3-4-09 karen/janine ADVERTISE YOUR eau is a real teacher who wrote the bestselling autobiographical novel on which the movie is based. Cantet cast him as the teacher and then worked for a year with a group of students, improvising and filming scenes. The young people in the film are playing roles, but still look very natural and comfortable in front of the camera. Early in the film is a long scene in Francois’ classroom as he conducts a lesson despite occasional cross conversations, wisecracks, and inattention. He is good at what he does and has learned how to focus on the lesson and not allow himself to be distracted. He calls on non-volunteers, challenges them, and draws them out. When a student asks a seemingly pointless question that has nothing to do with the conjugation of French verbs, he responds, but quickly gets back on track. Rather than teach at his class, he teaches to individuals. He knows every student’s name, insists that students show respect for him and their fellow students, and recognizes that many students come from tough backgrounds. As the film progresses, the students’ personalities are revealed. Esmerelda (Esmerelda Ouertani), a long-faced Franco-Arab girl with an attitude, is never at a loss for a wisecrack. Souleymane (Frank Keita), who has been kicked out of previous schools and has earned the title of troublemaker, is an immigrant from Mali who sits at the back of the room and glowers. Rabah (Nait Oufella) is a Muslim boy who puts girls far ahead of grammatical French on his list of priorities. Khoumba (Rachel Regulier) used to get along with Monsieur Marin, but has recently become insolent and resentful. “The Class” is structured episodically and covers a full school year. In addition to the classroom scenes, the film also shows teachers meeting to discuss the progress of students, parentteacher conferences, kids playing soccer in a narrow, concrete schoolyard, a teacher having a meltdown prompted by the underperformance of his class, and Monsieur Marin pushed to the edge. In one sequence, Marin asks the class to write a self-profile. This assignment stymies many in the class, since they do not regard themselves as special in any way. As Khoumba says, “We go to school, go home, eat, and sleep. That’s our lives.” Marin encourages them to express the basics: where they’re from, a bit about their family, and what they enjoy. When Souleymane refuses to do the assignment and Marin sees a photo he has taken with his cell phone, he suggests that the student can do his project with photos, teaching the boy about writing captions and using the computer to organize and print the results. Marin tacks up the series of pictures, which he refers to as Souleymane’s “masterpiece,” for the rest of the class to admire. Marin has finally broken through this student’s resistance and the look of pleasure on Souleymane’s face indicates he enjoys basking in the adulation of his teacher and his peers. This is a riveting movie. The viewer is drawn in by the unpredictable rawness of the daily routine, which can include near fights, sullenness, kids testing the teacher, and the teacher attempting to encourage and provoke thought. The movie does not tie things together neatly at the end. By the end of the school year, some have learned while others have not fared as well and fear that their academic future is in jeopardy. Rated PG-13, “The Class” captures the difficulties and rewards of teaching in public schools, underscoring the theme that a teacher faces innumerable obstacles as he or she attempts to help students learn.