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The CliffsNotes of Teaching: Movies about education

Randall F. Clemens

I originally posted this blog on May 14, 2009.

Laurent Cantet’s The Class, Entre les Murs in French, accentuates experiences typically ignored in most classroom-based films and elicits new feelings from the audience. Based on François Bégaudeau’s semi-autobiographical book about the life of a teacher in an inner-city school in Paris, we follow the evolution (or de-evolution) of Monsieur Marin, played by Bégaudeau, and his students throughout a school-year.

Cantet shot the movie like a documentary. The scenes were not scripted; instead, they were modeled on the book, improvised and rehearsed by actors, all nonprofessionals. Marin, while possibly well-intentioned, is far from likable. The class is populated with racially diverse students, who become more flawed, authentic as the story progresses. Like a real classroom, certain students move to the forefront as others drift to the background; politics and power struggles loom over the actions of the teacher and students.

Entre les Murs does not kowtow to the typical fanciful dynamics among a teacher and his students portrayed in Hollywood. It does not hold you tight and reassure you that all is well. It does question the roles of stakeholders and purposes and effectiveness of education. The movie reveals startling and upsetting glimpses into a classroom and adds a human dynamic to a genre that is sorely lacking.