Posted February 28, 2009 by William Dunmyer in Uncategorized

The Class — Important Achievement, But Not a Masterpiece

“The Class,” which was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign-Language Film, is the most authentic movie about lower-class teenagers that you are likely ever to see.

But that isn’t saying much, as this genre has a history of atrociously bad films. Francois Begaudeau, who stars in the film and who wrote the memoir upon which the film is based, is that rare middle-class adult who gets lower-class teens.

The film has a documentary style, but it was scripted. The actors appear all to be non-professionals. And for once, teens (not 21-year-olds) are playing the teens. I also get the sense that the teenagers contributed to the script. In most scenes, the dialogue is so authentically adolescent that it’s almost eerie.

As usual in films like this, problems arise when they dig too deeply into the drama of the teens. When two of the girls become vindictive against their teacher, it feels phony. I cannot see teens devising schemes with such precision. In my experience, teens live completely in the moment and can barely notice patterns across time, much less devise strategies that require planning across time.

Another slight misfire comes when the most troubled boy, Souleymane, gets into serious disciplinary trouble at the school. Here the film has the opposite problem. It doesn’t give the character enough mental breadth. A boy being considered for expulsion from school (and possible deportation) is going to have some thoughts and feelings about it. The film seemed not even to try to get in his head. Scratch the surface of any sullen boy and you get a torrent of emotion and thought. I wish the actor playing Souleymane had had the guts to suggest meaningful dialogue for this boy.

With these weaknesses, however, “The Class” still ends up being an important and intriguing film. At times it beautifully captures the typical maelstrom of braggadocio and shame that is the hallmark of adolescence.

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.