French director Laurent Cantet's The Class takes an honest look at high school students. Can American audiences relate?

Controversial 'Class'

on December 17, 2008 by Marco Cerritos
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Laurent Cantet’s new film The Class has stirred up controversy ever since it debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. When it first screened at the notoriously exuberant festival audiences weren’t prepared for the strong and difficult look of a teacher’s life at a tough Paris high school. The film eventually got the last laugh considering that it won the Golden Palm and later turned out to be embraced by critics and audiences when it debuted in France earlier this year.

Cantet is best known in the US for his small character drama Time Out but The Class threatens to change that in a big way. Critics nationwide have been showering it with awards and it also looks to be the frontrunner in the Foreign Language category in this year’s Oscar race.

But putting together the pieces of The Class proved to be easier for Cantet than one might expect. The film has a documentary feel in its depiction of inner-city high school life with all the threats and backstabbing one might be shocked to find.

The kids have a real camaraderie in the film and Cantet explains that he only gave minimal notes to his actors. He basically stayed out of their way and let them carve out the characters themselves.

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“We had real fun making the film so I think that’s what helped them be that strong," Cantet told B OXOFFICE. "We made an improvisation workshop during the old school year for three hours a week. I didn’t teach them how to act because I think they were good actors but we trained them like sports athletes just to help them go a little more further than what they would do by themselves. Also, we tried to get them to get used to include in improvisation very specific lines, very specific reactions that we needed.”

Cantet hopes The Class is embraced by students here in the US the same way it was in France. High school students usually preoccupied with the last Hollywood blockbuster went in droves to see themselves in his smaller movie. As a result, The Class stirred debate between young audiences that explored the growing change in school systems worldwide.

“There were a lot of young kids in the cinema and some of them wanted to speak. It’s not easy when you are 13 or 14 years old to take a microphone with adults behind you, teachers most of them, and say, 'Yes, it looks like what I’m living' or 'I don’t agree with that,' and now I’m very happy that in France a lot of students came to see the film. They are not used to this kind of film. They are watching action movies and they wanted to come here just to see the image the film was giving of themselves and of their own world,” said Cantet.

The Class is now playing in select theatres nationwide.

CLICK HERE to listen to our entire interview Laurent Cantet.

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