Opening 15 Jan 2009
The original French title Entre Les Murs (within the walls) describes this film much more accurately. The film is shot in its entirety inside a middle school in the 20th Arrondissement, Belleville, in Paris. Belleville is a multi-cultural area made up mostly of immigrants: Chinese, West African, North African, etc. The events in the film are based on fact and the actors (actual students and school personnel) are playing scripted roles. In other words, the kids are playing fictional versions of themselves. The only glimpse into the private lives of the students is during the parent/teacher conferences.
The class has a tough but fair teacher, Francois Bégaudeau (also the author of the book on which the film is based), and since this is Belleville, we have a mixed social group, all tough. The students react differently every day according to their moods, their anger and fatigue. Francois tries to create interest and instill knowledge in spite of the competition of the unruly class, and he often has his mistakes pointed out to him. Sometimes it seems that the teacher and his students are constantly acting without respect toward each other. The class is noisy and even aggressive, but Francois still manages to spur a bit of interest during his sessions on poetry or self portraits or whatever is on the agenda for that day's French lesson.
Insight into the workings of the school is obtained at teacher/administration meetings. At one point during a meeting it seems that the acquisition of a new coffee machine is more important than the grading system, but, if I taught at that school, I'd also find a good, strong cup of coffee between lessons imperative! Won best film at the 2008 Cannes film festival. (Thelma Freedman)