The Class (2008)

The Class (2008)

An engrossing, dialogue-driven Palme d’Or-winner



Bambara, French
Damien Gomes, Esmeralda Ouertani, Farida Ouchani
128 min


Passes with flying colors.

What it's about

A year spent in Monsieur Marin’s French literature class at an inner-city Paris high school.

The take

Taking place almost entirely in a single classroom, the two-hour-plus runtime of this French drama breezes past thanks to its sheer unrelenting energy. You’d be forgiven for assuming The Class is a documentary, so fly-on-the-wall is the filming and so naturalistic the dialogue, much of which was improvised from loose guidelines.

Unlike so many cinematic teachers, Monsieur Marin (played by co-screenwriter François Bégaudeau) doesn’t pull off any educational miracles with his class of backchatting 15-year-olds at an inner-city Paris school. Although the French literature teacher does make some inroads with disaffected kids like Souleymane (Franck Keïta), what really boosts The Class’ grade is its refusal to valorize its central figure. There are no rousing Dead Poets Society-style scenes here — in fact, the film builds from free-flowing lively debates to a tense climax that stems directly from a grave faux pas committed by none other than the teacher himself. Crucially, though, The Class is evenhanded in its treatment of its characters, recognizing both how complex each of these kids is underneath the blunt assessments contained on their report cards and how difficult and thankless the role of a teacher is.

What stands out

The Class barely pauses for breath, it’s so full of spirited conversation — including pupils’ pleas about how pointless it is to learn the pluperfect subjunctive tense (fair) to intense staff room debates about the pros and cons of particular student penalty systems. It’s a testament to the cast — all of whom were non-professional actors — that there’s never a false note amongst all this talk, and that their debates are so gripping they sustain the movie until its late turn into actual plot (a hearing to decide whether or not to expel one of Monsieur Marin’s students).


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