Despite—or perhaps because of—its Palme d’Or win at Cannes earlier this year, word on the street is that Laurent Cantet’s The Class is a weak opening night selection for 2008 New York Film Festival, a tepid piece of liberal hand-wringing over the current state of French education and that institution’s inability to adapt to the country’s changing ethnic and racial identity. In comparison, some have said, to a more complex and engrossing quasi-document like the fourth season of The Wire (a show with which I still remain unfamiliar), who cares? But having recently seen the NYFF’s inexplicably selected Afterschool, a film set in a similar milieu that indulges in callow luridness and aesthetic superficiality, I’m more than willing to defend The Class. If comparisons are going to be made I have to go with what I know, and I know that The Class, while undeniably catering to middlebrow tastes, possesses reserves of humanity, especially in contrast to some of its patronizing brethren.
In the first place, The Class is a welcome corrective to a significant omission in the vast majority of junior high or high school movies—actual classroom activity. Because, presumably, nobody wants to relive the tedium and obligation of school, the teaching of young people is ignored or else dismissively mocked (in Afterschool’s few scenes of learning, for example, shallow focus is employed to abstract the teacher into a meaningless blur) despite its integrality, for good or ill, to the formative adolescent experience. Click here to read the rest of Michael Joshua Rowin’s review of The Class, the opening night selection of the 2008 New York Film Festival.