Entre les Murs

Reality School

September 30, 2008By Paris UpdateFilm

The movie Entre les Murs has caused quite a stir in France, not least because it is the first French film to have won the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes in 21 years. This is all the more surprising an achievement as the film was entered for the prize at a very late stage and was only shown on the final day of the Cannes Film Festival.

Set almost entirely in one high-school classroom in the ethnically diverse and largely working-class 20th arrondissement of Paris, the film is remarkable not only in that all the actors are real pupils from the same area but also because the principal actor (who plays the French teacher) is teacher François Bégaudeau, who wrote the book on which the film is based.

Director Laurent Cantet’s decision to cast only amateurs turns out to be inspired. At no point in the movie does the dialogue seem forced or artificial. Much of the action is not intrinsically dramatic or exciting, but the efforts of the young teacher to engage with his pupils, who come from a wide range of national backgrounds, and the differing responses of those pupils, are gripping throughout. The film also offers abundant wit and humor. Few comedies have made me laugh out loud as often as I did during the two hours of Entre les Murs.

Not only do we get to know the individual pupils in the class, but we also see the teacher’s interaction with his fellow teachers and their very different outlooks on teaching. It is something we can all relate to, whether or not we have ever had the experience of teaching.

One story line in particular, about disciplining an unruly pupil, is riveting and moving, especially when the pupil is forced to translate the words of his mother, who cannot speak French, to the disciplinary panel and vice versa. The chastised pupil, who has been called before the panel because of his irresponsibility, suddenly has the awful responsibility of having to let his mother know his fate.

The only self-consciously “artful” moment in the movie is the final shot of the empty classroom. This is a wonderful piece of work, richly deserving of all the accolades it has attained.


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