December 18, 2008

The Class.

The Class LA Weekly's Ella Taylor on The Class: "As in Human Resources and the devastating Time Out ([Laurent] Cantet seems most at ease in the workplace, which may be why Heading South, about sex tourism in Haiti, is his only misfire), he builds thickly detailed experiential worlds through which he slowly leaks the pressing problems of our age - unemployment, downsizing, and now, in The Class, the changing meaning of education in a multiracial, heavily immigrant environment, where the very idea of a unifying culture has all but broken down. If that sounds dry, it's anything but."

Updated through 12/22.

"In all, The Class is a prime document of French post-colonial blues, though its relevance to American urban education could not be any greater if it had been made in the Bronx or Trenton or South Los Angeles," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "I would be surprised if this brilliant and touching film didn't become required viewing for teachers all over the United States. Everyone else should see it as well - it's a wonderful movie."

"It's all designed to flatter the middle-class art-film audience's patronizing attitude toward the Third World," argues Armond White in the New York Press.

Interviews with Cantet: Erica Abeel (indieWIRE), Elisabeth Donnelly (Tribeca), Phil Nugent (Screengrab) and Stephen Saito (IFC).

Craig Phillips notes that the screenplay's free to download.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and New York.

Updates, 12/20: The Class "exemplifies the anti-Oscar aesthetic," writes Dana Stevens in Slate:

It's an unsentimental slice-of-life story, shot on digital film with a cast of unglamorous unknowns. What few moments of suspense it has to offer are almost entirely language-related: Did he really just use that word? In what sense did he mean it? And what purpose does the imperfect subjunctive serve, anyway? Yet The Class is also one of the few films this year that I'd recommend without reservations to just about anyone. If you've ever sat in a classroom (or stood in front of one), if you're interested in thinking about race, social class, language, loyalty, work - oh, let's just say life - this unassuming movie will nail you to your seat.

"One of the several remarkable things about this austere and masterly movie - which may remind cinephiles of the calm clarity and seeming simplicity of the French master, Robert Bresson - is that [François] Bégaudeau is playing a version of himself, in a screenplay of his own devising that is in turn based on a novel that he also wrote." Richard Schickel in Time: "It is hard to think of another film more tightly autobiographical than this one. It's even harder to think of other films that build so gripping a narrative out of a string of comparatively minor and disparate incidents."

"Three of the last five Palme d'Or winners have been documentary-style dramas," notes Darrell Hartman in Interview. "In addition to The Class, there's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days... and the Belgian drama The Child, which won in 2005.... Ken Loach's Irish-nationalist drama The Wind that Shakes the Barley, which won in 2006, doesn't exactly look like a documentary, but it does come from one of cinema's foremost practitioners of social realism. Fahrenheit 9/11, the 2004 winner, is the odd one out - ironic, considering it's a documentary."

"[D]uring the second half's institutional breakdown, the movie truly comes alive, casting off any To Monsieur, with Love aspirations and turning into something much more complicated, chewy and real," writes David Fear in Time Out New York.

Heading South "found [Cantet] shading too far into lefty didacticism, but The Class commits itself so fully to its semi-documentary style that there's no space for editorializing," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

Update, 12/22: "Rather than To Sir with Love, it recalls British director Ken Loach's brand of leftist social realism," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "Of the four films Laurent Cantet has made, three center around the workplace (or its absence, as in his 2001 masterpiece, Time Out.) Like his debut Human Resources, The Class examines the way people exercise power over each other in a charged environment."

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Posted by dwhudson at December 18, 2008 12:45 PM