Director: Laurent Cantet
Year Released: 2008
Finally: a movie about teaching that actually feels "lived in." This is a documentary-like examination of power and control in a (modern) classroom setting, with teacher/writer François Bégaudeau - who wrote the source text and collaborated on the screenplay - attempting to teach lower-income, multi-cultural kids French. Long gone are the days where the kids sit quietly and passively absorb information, respect the teacher and do what's asked of them - this group is (largely) defiant, proud and demanding of respect they don't realize they never earned (they're only 14), and their instructor is humorless and struggles to be even the least bit compromising. It's easy to sit back and be critical of both the students and the teacher while acting as a passive observer - the kids rude and inconsiderate but have atrocious home lives and absentee parents; Bégaudeau's character says things he shouldn't but it's easy to slip verbally when you're outnumbered and angry (there's a double standard: the students can call the instructor anything they want, but the minute they get it back they take the moral high-ground). It's all shades of gray: even the ending comment by the one student - who genuinely believes she learned nothing - makes one question how much of the blame for her lack of learning is on the teacher, the system, the culture (music and soccer dominate the mindset), her family or her and only her (neither Cantet nor Bégaudeau have definite answers - my argument would be that it's a combination of all those things). But the sad truth is - and again, it's coming from a teacher's perspective - that in the world of education some students have been and will forever be left behind.