‘Class’ Act: Director Laurent Cantet’s ‘The Class’ Hits Disc Aug. 111 Jun, 2009 By: Billy Gil
Director Laurent Cantet wrote Oscar nominee The Class with the help of the film’s inspiration, François Bégaudeau, who also stars in the film as a version of himself — a teacher at a rough Parisian school who encourages his children to speak in class. The film hits DVD ($28.96) and Blu-ray Disc ($38.96) Aug. 11 (prebook July 9) from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
The film, based on Bégaudeau’s book Entre les murs (in English, “between the walls”), takes a docudrama approach in which the crew cast actual Parisian students and then created their characters with the students themselves. Acting workshops were employed for a year before The Class began filming, and those workshops appear on the Blu-ray Disc.
“This film has really been done in a experimental way in that we didn’t know exactly what would happen when we started the workshop,” Cantet said. “We didn’t even have 1 Euro to make the film and just wanted to see what would happen.”
What happened is that the film was made with striking authenticity, in a freewheeling style that causes the viewer to often forget it is a film, much less a dramatic interpretation rather than a documentary. The film went on to become an international success, winning the Palme d’Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, and was a nominee for the 2009 Academy Awards.
Cantet said great care was taken in creating the film’s subtitles. Since the film details a French grammar class, the parts of the film that dealt with lessons taught to the children had to be reconfigured to make sense for the English language, changing the meaning of what was being said to something that English speakers could relate to.
“For example, one of the main themes of the film is based on the subjunctive perfect, which is a tense that isn’t very much used in France,” Cantet explained. “Of course, that doesn’t mean anything to an English-speaking person, so we had to find another way to build the scene in English. That was quite interesting.”
Not all were taken with Cantet and his crew’s exploration of what happens when a teacher in such a school allows his students to voice their opinions in an occasionally boisterous manner.
“In France a lot of teachers loved the film and recognized it, but some of them refused it really because I think they were looking at the film as a documentary film that would show the entire year in a class, and the film is not that at all,” Cantet said. “I chose some moments in a year, and the moments I chose are where the teacher accepts the discussion with the children.
“Those who didn’t like the film always say, ‘They are always talking in this class. They are never working.’ What could I answer to that, other than that … I was not making a documentary film about French grammar?”
Cantet has another theory about why some teachers have a negative reaction to the film.
“When you have 25 children asking you questions, you don’t really have time to think of the consequences of what you are saying, and something you say one word you shouldn’t say, or you have one reaction you shouldn’t have, and that’s what a lot of teachers experience,” he said. “I think the teachers who didn’t like the film didn’t want the parents to see what was happening in the class. They would have preferred to keep that to themselves.”
The Class DVD and Blu-ray discs contain a making-of featurette and commentary on select scenes from Cantet and Bégaudeau, while the Blu-ray also has the rehearsal session with the children as well as self-portraits in which the young actors interview themselves in order to develop their characters.