The Class

Richly deserving of the Oscar nomination it recently received as Best Foreign-Language film, Laurent Cantet's scrappy mesmerizer of a movie about a life in learning sneaks up and floors you. The film is based on an autobiographical novel by François Bégaudeau, a French schoolteacher who grapples with junior-high students in a racially mixed section of France. Though Cantet shoots the film documentary style, Bégaudeau, as Francois Marin, is actually playing a fictionalized version of himself — and doing it superbly by the way. The actors are actual students playing at being themselves — also doing it superbly. Using mobile high-definition cameras that prowl around the classroom like proverbial flies on the wall, Cantet achieves a rare immediacy. There are times when fists fly as fast as the arguments and you want to duck. Over the course of a year with this teacher, flawed and conflicted in ways that Hollywood would run from, The Class creates a frenzy of bad behavior, divided loyalties and hard won compromise — a parallel universe that looks very much like our own. The premise that all life is high school has never seemed as scarily true and oddly hopeful then it does here. Fierce, funny and moving, The Class graduates with honors. It's unmissable. Absentees will be punished.

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