Directed by Laurent Cantet
Running Time: 128 min.
Last week I referred to the black kid in Doubt as, That most condescending of all social constructs: a minority. But this week that construction describes an entire movie, the Cannes Film Festival Award–winning The Class. Set in a modern Parisian public school, The Class is based on a memoir by François Bégaudeau recounting one school year teaching inner-city immigrant youth. Bégaudeau portrays himself, but director Laurent Cantet is responsible for the films reality-TV style, employing non-professional teens to reenact the student body of minorities.
Its all designed to flatter the middle-class art-film audiences patronizing attitude toward the Third World.These kids claim on the conscience of the bourgeois West invokes post-9/11 guilta piety so strong that it fools many liberals into mistaking their condescension for empathy. Bégaudeau struggles to civilize these beastsbeurs from the banlieueswhose natural teenage rebellion threatens to tear down Western heritage. Hostile to national language and tradition, they taunt Bégaudeaus grammar and his sexuality.Yet he endures. Cantet lost his bearings with Heading South, an overwrought Marxist analysis of imperialism through the menopausal cravings of white women on the loose in the Caribbean. His sympathies are still berserk and purely didacticin every scene that excuses the second-generation students resistance to cultural orientation. Cantet never critiques hip-hop youth for swallowing radical cant as easily as they get Muslim tattoos or don Detroit Pistons jerseys.
(Sports rivalry stirs vicious classroom antagonisms.) The dangers inherent in intellectual vacillation show in Cantets faculty lounge scenes where teacherstypically bourgeois over-discuss classroom problems.The single outburst of angered authority is patronized.
The Class is so densely racist it justifies Bégaudeau nearly losing his job because students protest his angry utterance of skank when debating a female student. Bégaudeau brightens when his most hostile pupil says shes just read Platos The Republic. Plainly, shes learned nothing from it, yet Cantet accepts this apple-polishing as victory.
Americans have no business falling for this nonsense. Our school system fails due to class and economic issues that Cantets racism ignores.Yet critics who ignored the education drama Akeelah and the Bee extol Cantets bald white-mans-burden metaphor. Our imperfect democracy has surpassed this French liberal romanticism at least since Robert Mulligans 1967 film Up the Down Staircase. When Sandy Dennis suburban white teacher coped with the turmoil of an urban high school, a veteran casually advised, You cant give up, and you cant give them up.Theyve been given up already.Were their last chance. Or maybe theyre our last chance. Cantet doesnt quite know how to say that. In his conceit, Cantet essentially pities these minorities as colonial brats. He delimits their humanity, and thats the films ultimate blackboard bungle.