The Class ★★★★½

With "The Class", co-writer/director Laurent Cantet ("Heading South") has made a remarkably realistic film that plays like a classroom documentary, offering a certain amount of insight into the French school system and raising universal issues about the situation in many schools and in the school system in general. The movie nimbly avoids the melodramatic moments that might be conventionally expected, and there is only one scene—the teacher confronting two of his students in the schoolyard after they have reported him for calling them skanks—that comes across as somewhat contrived.

After a slightly disorienting beginning, the movie becomes increasingly engaging. By the time the last reel unspools, the viewer will find themselves really emotionally invested in the characters. Some linguistic nuances, especially those that are present early in the proceedings, are probably lost in translation or at least less effective when translated, but "The Class" is nevertheless a very satisfying film.

The cast members deserve praise for their top-notch acting. François Bégaudeau, who wrote the semi-autobiographical novel on which the film is based and also co-wrote the screenplay, turns in a perfectly pitched performance as the teacher François Marin. Perhaps even more impressive are the young, non-professional actors who are utterly convincing in the roles of the students; their interactions with each other and with Marin seem completely natural.