Monday, March 23, 2009
If I tell you all that I haven’t read about the 2008 Cannes Palme D’Or I would be lying, as definitively it was impossible not to know what the movie was about and the story behind the movie. So, I was a little apprehensive about this movie as I do not particularly like teacher/student stories and less in documentary alike films.
But I needed not to worry as this very unusual film totally grabs your attention and at moments generates real tension even when most of the dialogues are not scripted, teachers are played by real teachers, students are real students, and you never leave the school grounds. As a matter of fact most of the movie you do not leave the classroom.
As probably many of you know this Laurent Cantet film is a loose adaptation of an award winning book by François Bégaudeau who also co wrote the screenplay and stars as the lead character, François Marin; a character that is totally inspired in him and his real life experiences told in his book of the same name as the movie.
The movie starts with the new school term and finishes when the term ends, but it is really hard to explain how interesting and outstanding is to follow a French language teacher teaching the most heterogeneous group of 14/15 years-olds with many (at least the main characters) being children from immigrants (legal or not) from Africa, the Caribbean, Chinese and Arab countries.
There are many moments that you feel like you’re another student as great hand held camera work really takes you inside the classroom and there are moments that I felt like participating and surprised myself talking to the screen (lol). There are emotions in this film, but mostly this is a film for your brain and I’m trying to remember unsuccessfully the last film I saw that really was addressed to my brain and not my emotions. I had so much to say when the film was over that I wish I could write everything here… but I know that will be a boring discourse for many.
From my readings after watching the movie I find that many see this movie with a French story. Not me. This is an universal story that probably is happening right now in many schools all over the world; well, at least in those that “allow” heterogeneous classes. But if you’re like me -your classroom years are long gone- and most current references come from very aggressive and violent mainly American cinema, then you probably will have a treat just as I did.
The movie really feels like a documentary –even when is not- but a unique documentary as shows ordinary everyday life inside a classroom, inside teachers and school principal meetings, and some French language classes that I highly enjoyed for the simplicity of common sense and the flowery side that many Romance languages have. The last allows me to comment that I wonder how viewers that do not understand French could get the subtleties and intensity of many dialogues, especially those between the teacher and his students, as I truly believe that this film will loose in translation. Nevertheless it has been so acclaimed that who knows and perhaps I’m wrong.
To me the story looks and feels like a four-walls closed microcosm that reflects life in many ways and totally reflects the era we are currently living where heterogeneousness not only comes from race, backgrounds, sexual preference and/or religion, but also because the amazingly large amount of information that we –and especially (but not only) the younger ones- consume that makes many of us more “knowledge” savvy and less prone to be only “followers”.
I will stop here trying to tell you what the story is all about. You have to watch the movie to find out, as otherwise I will get into writing an very philosophical essay.
As a movie I believe that its value resides in the use of non-actors delivering not all scripted dialogues that totally gives the film a cinema verité look. So people in the screen are not “performing” they are doing what they usually do when they are inside the school walls.
This multiple award and honored movie definitively is a Must Be Seen for many that read this blog; but I know that is not for all audiences and some of you will find it tedious, will miss “action” (so many comments about expecting violence) and will wonder how come this movie won the 2008 Palme D’Or. I really hope many of you do not belong to the second group and are able to enjoy this highly unusual film as much as I did.