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Go to the head of The Class

Perhaps the 2009 Oscars race has made me a cynical, bitter gay with little appetite for Hollywood or any of its maudlin, year-end offerings. OK -- Slumdog and Milk and Doubt and The Wrestler the rest were awesome. But now it's time for us to start weaning ourselves off the melodramatic, inspirational flicks that, for the past two months, have all but canceled each other out.

So I was a bit hesitant going to see The Class, this year's Golden Palm-winning film about an inner city middle school literature teacher in Paris. Thankfully, though, director Laurent Cantet's effort is as thought provoking as it is subtle -- which makes The Class a perfect Oscars hangover tonic.

Francois Begaudeau -- the actual teacher (and a looker) who wrote the novel on which the film is based -- plays a semi-autobiographical version of himself as Mr. Marin. Walking a fine, and evidently dangerous, line between colloquial and formal teaching styles, Marin is spotlighted in his oft-futile attempts at student enlightenment and his frequent clashes with a class of middle-schoolers at the utmost threshold of rambunctiousness and recalcitrance. The result is a film complex in the most surprising and striking ways.

What makes The Class particularly engaging is its direct opposition to the cliches of other inner city teacher movies. Instead of relying on wrought narratives (and musical gimmicks), most of the film is shot strictly within the confines of a classroom setting, where students' back-stories and personalities are doled out gradually. The scenes of Mr. Marin teaching his students tend to last forever, yet are remarkably carried by punchy, back-and-forth dialogue and an impending sense of chaos and disaster.

Compositionally, The Class is quite spare in some respects, almost bordering on documentary. But for a crowd that has been sitting through a long set of Hollywood tearjerkers for the past two months, less is probably more.


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Noah Michelson