School of thought

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

On the face of it, Laurent Cantet's Oscar-nominated, documentary-style drama about a year in the life of a high school French teacher in an immigrant-heavy section of Paris is little more than a succession of classroom encounters that present a clash between elder authority and youthful rebellion - another Freedom Writers or To Sir, With Love. But the combined effect of this well-rounded portrait of teachers' daily challenges and frustrations is almost indescribable.

Francois Marin (author Francois Begaudeau, who wrote the screenplay based on his own teaching experience and takes to the part naturally) runs his class authoritatively but openly, starting a dialogue that sometimes elicits the engagement he's after, but more often is met with distrust or a time-wasting argument.

Scenes with fellow teachers present a staff fighting burnout with hope, and sometimes losing, and Francois' out-of-class efforts to gain leniency or more educational opportunities for his students.

While this part of the formula is familiar, it doesn't produce the result you're used to, because Cantet isn't at all about platitudes. There's much more sustenance in a taste of reality, in the myriad, mind-boggling ways in which Francois' good intentions are derailed, including him underestimating his charges. It's not traditionally satisfying, yet as The Class goes on, it's altogether riveting.

"The Class"

Opens Friday

Grade: A