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Oscar-nominated The Class earns extra credit for tense realism

The Oscar-nominated French drama 'The Class' serves as a rebuke to "inspirational teacher" films like 'Dangerous Minds' with its charged, realistic portrayal of institutional bureaucracy and classroom conflicts.

The Oscar-nominated French film The Class could qualify as a remedial course for audiences who believe that “inspirational teacher” films like Dangerous Minds or Stand and Deliver impart all the lessons you need about the educational system.

In The Class, teacher and award-winning novelist François Bégaudeau plays a fictionalized version of himself, a middle-school French instructor who tries to explain the imperfect subjunctive to rebellious 13- to 15-year-olds from an inner-city Parisian neighborhood. Rather than earn Hollywood-style standing ovations from his students, François faces insolent challenges and constant low-level chatter. At times he seems more like a comedian talking over hecklers on open-mic night.

Director Laurent Cantet, whose previous films include the mournful white-collar drama Time Out, restricts the action entirely to the classroom and various faculty offices, so we never glimpse the home lives of François or his students (played with impeccable realism by actual students). Instead, the classes prove to be scenes of near-constant conflict, including one outburst of violence. The audience easily sympathizes with François' attempts to keep order and stay on message, giving The Class more real tension, in its soft-spoken way, than your average heist thriller.