Monday, 20 July 2009

Realism and Debate in Entre Les Murs

Hi people, this is a contribution sent by Claudia. Hope you find it useful. Anahí

March 19th, 2009 by Gautam (taken from
In France, school education is “gratuit et compulsaire”- meaning it is free and compulsory. Students are sent to various “levels” of schools according to their academic performance and behavior, resulting in a world where smart kids get to learn and grow with smart kids and the not so smart ones share their classrooms with other under-performers and hope that if they study hard and behave themselves, they will probably get to go to a better school the following year.
This is the setting for the film in question “Entre Les Murs” better known to English audiences as simply “The Class”. The title literally translates into English as “Between the Walls”- a clever title indeed as it signifies the long association that exists between the words “walls” and “classroom” and at the same time brings about the restrictive and claustrophobic nature of being “in between” walls. The premise of the story comes from the semi-autobiographical book written by François Bégaudeau, who rather aptly also takes on the lead role of the French teacher François Marin. The film, like the book follows the teacher’s daily routine at the school (named “Dolto”)- in the classroom and the teacher’s lounge through a whole academic year. Indeed, the camera never leaves the school campus resulting in a concentric irony that while the students are trapped “Between the Walls” of the classroom, the teachers are themselves trapped “Between the Walls” of the school.
Day by day we see the teachers struggle to make sense out of their present situation and try to come up with the “one perfect” way that will apply well to all students in unanimous agreement but we see how futile these attempts are when we follow Monsieur Marin in his racially diverse class and his constant attempts to try and cater to each and every student the best he can. Marin slowly realizes that his classroom is somewhat a miniature France itself- racially diverse, religiously tolerant and connected only by the golden yarn of the French language. This is perhaps the very first time in cinema where an accurate depiction of a racially diverse classroom has been done with such little drama (…) all so diverse and all in the need of separate attention and a separate method of teaching.
The film raises a lot of important questions in the form of the teachers making some tough decisions that they think are morally viable but at the same time we see the students’ disillusionment in the system is only further confirmed with their acts. Marin, though at first seems unlike his colleagues in terms of being able to better communicate with his students, slowly gets himself involved in questionable methods to bring order to his class. Perhaps, it is this moral ambiguity and the level of realism used in the film that bring about the third dimension in vast emboss in this film- it’s not a Freedom Writers (2007) or a Dangerous Minds (1994) both semi-autobiographical accounts of teachers dealing with a racially diverse classroom, but unlike a Hillary Swank or a Michelle Pfeiffer, François Bégaudeau doesn’t end up changing a class that can’t sit together in the same room to a group of individuals who are ready to take a bullet for each other.
On the technical side, the film really shines. Set to the rich, warm palettes of the Parisian sun and with the skillful use of the hand-held camera (a rare skill, often put to bad use by inexperienced cinematographers simply aping their role-models), the film rides on at its own pace over a tolerable time frame of just over two hours. One only notices at the end credits, that there is not a single instance of music in the film and perhaps certain unseasoned audiences may even perceive this film as a documentary. And to an extent, it really is documentary. All the actors playing the students in the film are students of the school themselves and playing roles with the same name as themselves- save for Khoumba and Soulaiman- both names and stories manufactured especially for the film to create certain important plot points in the film.
In the end, one can only debate on how deep or how shallow the film is but it is this very fact that people are sitting around their dinner tables and debating the validity of this film is what makes it a significant film.
“Entre Les Murs” won the prestigious Palmd’Or at the 61st Cannes FilmFestival (2008).

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