The Class, adapted from François Bégaudeau's semi-autobiographical Entre les murs, was shaped with a daringly experimental approach. The film never once aims its cameras outside the confines of the school, defining its characters wholly through their interactions with each other. As there aren't any glimpses of their lives at home, we see its characters only as others see them. Though there was a script that was loosely followed -- one that was reshaped through a series of improvisational workshops -- it doesn't follow a traditional narrative structure. There is a clear beginning and end, as The Class spans the course of an entire term, but it doesn't concern itself with sweeping character arcs or subplots that slowly simmer throughout the film. The Class furthers its documentary-like approach by not bothering with a score to hammer one emotion or another into the audience. It's a slice of life, really, delving into a school year that on the surface may look rather mundane yet boasts a truth waiting to be revealed. It's an approach that demands a considerable amount of confidence as a filmmaker, and the result is far more rewarding than the formulaic, oversentimental pap of dreck like Freedom Writers.
High school marks a time as children start to make the uneasy transition into adulthood, struggling to find some sense of identity along the way. It's this element that The Class explores in the greatest detail. This is a multi-ethnic classroom, so not only are these students pitted against the usual hurdles in discovering who they are, but there's the additional complexity of integrating comfortably into French society while still retaining some semblance of their ancestry. It isn't just a matter of how the students view themselves but how they're perceived by others as well. This conflict extends to the teachers too, dismissed by the students as leading insular, empty lives that revolve wholly around the walls of their school. Neither understands the other, and both suffer from some level of frustration because of it. Certainly neither side is portrayed as right either, and throughout the course of the film, Marin inadvertently offends several of his students, he can be overly confrontational, and there's some merit to the argument that he's overindulgent and entirely too tolerant. The Class is less interested in the answers than in establishing the questions, and rooting the film around a teacher who's well-meaning but
Inspired in part by The Diary of Anne Frank, Marin attempts to get to know his students by having them pen self-portraits, a seemingly routine exercise that's met with very different reactions from the class. The film looks at language as a barrier between teacher and student...between different social groups...between nationalities. By bringing some of the students' parents in for conferences, we catch a brief glimpse of what helped shape the children we'd spent so much time with up to this point. This extends to the film's most dramatic sequences as one student is threatened with expulsion -- and possibly being sent by his family back to an impoverished African village -- after exploding in rage during class.
The Class' unconventional approach is its greatest strength but could leave some viewers feeling uninvolved. It doesn't have a traditional narrative to latch onto, some subplots are either disregarded or only partially resolved, and the film is disinterested in building to a weepy, dramatic crescendo. The Class is a film with quite a bit to say, and rather than sharply and unambiguously carve a message onto the screen, it lays out its thoughts across a 138 minute canvas for its audience to uncover. This is a film that poses questions but would prefer to leave the answers in other hands, and for viewers interested in seeking out a movie that's engaging, unconventional, and certain to spark discussion afterwards, The Class is well-worth discovering on Blu-ray. Recommended.
The Class doesn't present itself as a documentary but certainly looks the part. Shot natively on high definition video, the scope image sports an understated palette, one that reflects the sterility of a classroom lit by overhead fluorescent lights and sunlight beaming in through nearby windows. The digital photography tends to look rather smooth, and The Class is overall somewhat softer than usual for a high definition release. The levels of detail and clarity are unremarkable but immediately identifiable as HD just the same, and its facial and clothing textures in particular are rendered well. I'm uncertain if this dates back to the original digital photography or is a misstep during the AVC encoding, but some fairly heavy artifacting does creep in at times, most glaringly on a maroon door as M. Marin is confronted by another teacher. The Class by design isn't a visually dazzling film, but it certainly benefits enough from the additional resolution and colorspace that Blu-ray offers for it to be worth seeking out in high definition.
The Class boasts Dolby TrueHD audio in its original French. This, somewhat unconventionally, is a 3.0 soundtrack, shrugging off any LFE or surround effects, and its sound design suits a fairly claustrophobic film so intensely driven by its dialogue. The stereo imaging across the front mains is terrific, fleshing out a reasonably strong sense of motion and directionality. Its dialogue -- rooted in the center channel -- is consistently rendered cleanly and clearly throughout, not marred by so much as a flicker of clipping or distortion. Though this is a rather low-key soundtrack, that seems appropriate given the nature of the film, and I can't muster any complaints about the way The Class sounds on Blu-ray.
A second TrueHD 3.0 track features an English dub, and a Dolby Digital Spanish track has also been included. Subtitles are offered in English (traditional and SDH), French, and Spanish. Owners of constant image height projection rigs should note that the film's English subtitles do spill over into the letterboxing bars.
The Final Word
The Class is an intriguing experiment, crafted with such supreme confidence that it has no interest in settling for the traditional inspirational teacher formula or repeatedly underscoring some clumsily delivered moral. This isn't a film that settles comfortably into one specific heading or another; it's not a drama, it's not a comedy, it's not a documentary...it draws from each of those yet stands strong as a work very much its own. Some may feel as if they're being kept at arm's length by the lack of a conventional narrative. The Class is a slice of life rather than a series of dramatic beats, several subplots go at least somewhat unresolved, and the film ends without the obligatory "where are they now...?" epilogue. Along with its exploration of identity, The Class' disinterest in convention is a chief aspect of its appeal, and cineastes seeking out something distinctive and unique on Blu-ray ought to find the film to be a rewarding discovery. Recommended.