The Class ★★½

This was a frustrating movie. To start, it's about 40 minutes too long - the tangents, segues, and avenue after avenue of plot didn't beneficially contribute much at all. At 130 minutes, THE CLASS is a slog...it's almost entirely packed with dialogue, rambling, regurgitative, obnoxious, agonizing...it communicates hardly anything through its visuals, which are bland and repetitive. Instead of extrapolating the obvious hardships and difficult living conditions of every person in the school into the essence of the film, THE CLASS merely translates what it feels like to be trapped in a middle school classroom with young, disadvantaged teenagers. Instead of mining the circumstances of its characters for pathos as in SHORT TERM 12, for example, THE CLASS drags excruciatingly over a familiar, cloying retinue.

Still, even if I was practically praying for the movie to end in parts, it won the Palme D'or...it isn't without its merits. The teacher character, played by Francois Begaudeau does strong work as a likable, earnest figure that's actually more than the 'white savior' guise he initially suggests. Instead, he's flawed and often finds himself without the answers. There's definitely a certain aspect of realism that I appreciate with this movie, in that it isn't manipulatively inspirational, a la FREEDOM WRITERS, or any of those other American teacher films where the poetic virtues of hip-hop music are extolled. THE CLASS deserves praise in that it understands the institutional flaws in the country's educational system; the inherent inequalities preventing kids from having the same opportunities nationwide. It realizes even further that this isn't a problem capable of being remedied in a quick or easy fashion. This lends the proceedings an air of hopelessness, of existential dread: in the film's best scene, a teacher breaks down in a lounge area because of his students' impermeable insolence. Despite his best efforts and genuine will to see them succeed, they just aren't inclined to give a shit.

The third act was probably the most grating, in how it reminded me of a made for TV version of THE HUNT. Accusations, trials, he-said-she-said...it all culminates in a shrill, tedious disciplinary 'trial' in schooldesk tables and chairs...blech. The saddest thing? The payoff is the most predictable, and yet the least. Basically I just didn't have much 'fun' with THE CLASS at all. Some of the performances from the teens were good, played by actual students from the actor-teacher's actual class, which he wrote a book about...Maybe it won the Palme because of the authenticity gimmick? Or, perhaps, how closely it plays to the most distilled expectations. What if the works with the most accolades are really just the ones we could've thought of ourselves? Forget it, just watch The Wire...