Cinema is full of films about the beautiful relationship between a teacher and his or her students. There are so many, that sometimes, it becomes easy to forget that this relationship isn?t always so beautiful in reality.
Laurent Cantent?s French film, The Class (Entre les murs) won the Palme d?Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival perhaps for the reality check it brings to the group of teacher-student films.
The Class is the story of Francois, a young man who teaches French at a middle-school. His class comprises teenagers from different ethnic backgrounds, most of whom are of African-Muslim origin. It isn?t really a story that has any major dramatic event that defines the entire film or focuses on one central relationship. It is just the story of a teacher and how he deals with students who are sometimes innocent and confused, but also insolent and difficult.
The most attractive thing about this film is its characters and how real they are. There isn?t any one central flaw in one student that a miracle worker in the guise of a teacher works towards fixing. They are real people, with small, everyday problems, and what is most important - they all have some problem or the other. Some are revealed, some are not, but to the student they are real.
Francois is by no means the hero we see in such films. He is human, and he therefore has a range of emotions. As would be expected from any teacher who has to deal with a difficult bunch of students on a regular basis, he loses his temper, says inappropriate things, feels hurt, feels elated and is a bit unfair at times. He is not the last word in creativity, but he manages to extract some creative work out of his students when he tries.
The students aren?t angels in the guise of students. They look out for themselves because that is how they live on a day-to-day basis.
Between the teacher who tries hard to be loyal and yet maintain the dignity due to him, and the variety of students in the class, the film presents an interesting ensemble of characters. Its scope is greater and there is far more complexity and food for thought in this film compared to the run-of-the-mill movies that usually come our way.
A statutory warning, if Mona Lisa Smile and Taare Zameen Par are your ideals as far as movies are concerned, do not watch The Class, you will be disappointed. If a reality check is something you can digest, please watch it, it is a refreshing treat.