September 23, 2008

NYFF. The Class.

"The Class [site], a French high-school drama that emerged as the popular underdog winner of the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year, belongs to the largely inspirational tradition of the classroom movie," writes Dennis Lim in the New York Times.

The Class

"Sometimes the films in this category are odes to youthful rebellion - Jean Vigo's Zero for Conduct, Lindsay Anderson's If... - but more often (and certainly in the American iterations) they are celebrations of the charismatic, inventive pedagogue, as embodied by Glenn Ford in Blackboard Jungle, Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds or Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson. The Class simultaneously revives and undermines this longstanding genre." Downloadable from that same page in the New York Times is Manohla Dargis's interview with Laurent Cantet.

"Cantet's upward career trajectory has been odd enough," writes Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door: "one of his major themes is negotiating capitalism while trying to maintain ethical integrity (which, admittedly, would probably be an easier sell right now, but still not all that sexy). It's strangely inevitable that Cantet would get around to a macrocosmic portrait of contemporary French society's startlingly diverse ethnic composition and try to report back on the state of the nation; he's nothing if not an earnestly liberal, political filmmaker. In that sense, The Class is his most ambitious film, even as it feels like one of his most modest."

"In 1999, Mr Cantet made Human Resources which parlayed a family scuffle into a labor dispute, with a white-collar son finding himself pitted against his blue-collar father. In 2001, with Time Out, Mr Cantet told the story of a man who neglects to inform his family that he has lost his job and slips down a spiral of fear, shame, and self-disgust. Four years later, Mr Cantet's Heading South examined the rift separating First World tourists and Third World sex workers, as white women of privilege traveled to Haiti and paid handsome men to be their sexual companions. Mr Cantet's films are piercing but also empathetic, reflective of a director intent on making a point but also open to the notion of loving his flawed characters." S James Snyder talks with him for the New York Sun.

"Because reflective of 2008 culture in more ways than one, The Class goes for documentary-realism by shooting with an unnecessarily shaky handheld camera zoomed in on a series of talking-head close-ups, but looks more like a glossy Apple commercial, with plastic white backgrounds, completely even lighting, and HD's well-detailed, flattened spaces (whereas last years NYFF sensation Silent Light owed less to Dreyer than to IKEA)." David Phelps in Slant: "As if Cantet and company could afford an expensive camera, but not a tripod? Formally worthless, The Class is, once again, just mediocre, pass-the-time TV; feel free to head to the toilet in the middle, read the comics, check your weight, grab a beer, and you won't miss a thing."

"What matters here is language. [Cantet] looks at how speech circulates and the relationship to power and authority, rather than a depiction of learning in the strict sense." For Dissidenz, Emmanuelle Mougne considers the film alongside Mariana Otero's La loi du collège (School Law).

The Class is Cineuropa's latest "Film Focus"; earlier, Fabien Lemercier noted that the film will represent France in the race for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.

Updates, 9/24: "[E]ven at its most scripted, Cantet's latest - boasting a clarity and consistency of vision that's as bracing as its naturalistic performances - is vigorous, incisive, immediate," writes Nick Schager.

"The Class ranks among the best classroom movies I have ever seen, and these include Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel (Der Blaue Engel) and Alf Sjoberg's Torment (Hets), from a screenplay by Ingmar Bergman," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "I mention these classic clashes between youth and authority because in a much subtler and more nuanced way, The Class is disturbingly contemporary in its reflection of a spreading anti-intellectualism among the youth around the world, and not just among the youth."

Updates, 9/26: "The Class isn't directly about civil unrest and French identity as a republican ideal, though these issues run through it like a powerful current, keeping the children and adults (and the filmmaking) on edge," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Rather, the director, Laurent Cantet - using a small team and three high-definition video cameras - keeps a steady eye on the children, these anxious, maddening little people flailing and sometimes stalling on the entryway to adulthood."

"It's a movie about the classroom not as a safe place isolated from the outside world, but as a place where disparate people from that outside world come together, with all the conflicts and revelations that that kind of messy mingling implies," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek.

"To date, I've gotten through roughly 71 percent of the Festival's main slate, and no film has affected me quite so deeply," writes John Magary at the Reeler.

"Realism is the mode du jour of international art cinema, so it's fitting that the New York Film Festival opens with Laurent Cantet's Palme d'Or winner, "The Class," an exercise in naturalist mise-en-scene, improvisatory nonprofessional acting, and immediate handheld cinematography." Leo Goldsmith in indieWIRE: "These tropes should by now be familiar to audiences attending a festival that will also feature works by likeminded filmmakers such as Jia Zhangke and Kelly Reichardt (and hosted Hou Hsaio-hsien's and Lee Chang-dong's similar films last year). But Cantet's film impresses if even for the feat of credibly portraying the atmosphere of a classroom full of fourteen-year-old urban Parisians - with all of the adolescent storm and stress that such a petri dish would necessarily create."

"Quietly heartbreaking while maintaining both intimacy and reserve in its documentary aesthetic, The Class... is the most acomplished film about modern education since Frederick Wiseman's masterpiece High School," writes Brandon Harris at Hammer to Nail. "It is that all too rare movie that leaves our assumptions and prejudices thoroughly tested."

"The Class, while undeniably catering to middlebrow tastes, possesses reserves of humanity, especially in contrast to some of its patronizing brethren," argues Michael Joshua Rowin in Reverse Shot.

Update, 10/3: "If The Class were just meant as an antidote to the long course of ridiculous inspirational classroom movies, the shape it takes would be enough," writes Alison Willmore. "But Cantet's film is also resolutely evenhanded with the way its school's determinedly democratic processes can fail.... In the best way, it doesn't feel like a story at all."

Update, 10/4: "Complaining that a two-hour movie can't match the dizzying depth and cumulative force of an entire season of The Wire (see also Gomorrah) may seem unfair, but there's no denying that in its second half, as The Class's anecdotal nature gets overwhelmed by the question of whether certain problem students are worth 'saving,' the film moves into territory that David Simon and his crew handled with a great deal more complexity and finesse - in part because they didn't restrict themselves entirely to the school grounds." Mike D'Angelo at Filmcatcher, also featuring an a target="_blank" href="">interview with Cantet.

Update, 10/25: "What The Class does extremely well (and with great subtlety) is to question the purpose and function of the education system, and the role it plays in the development (mental/social/etc.) of a child," writes Andrew Grant in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Though a work of fiction, The Class is a remarkably honest film, and one that portrays kids as neither precocious nor precious, nor as a mouthpiece for adult ideas and words. Though it (obviously) addresses issues about the French education system, there’s something surprisingly universal about it, and much of the film will resonate with any parent of a school-aged child."

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Posted by dwhudson at September 23, 2008 12:06 PM