Entre Les Murs, which translates to “between the walls” or as the film is titled in English, “The Class,” is a French language film based on a novel by Francois Begaudeau–who I have come to believe is purely narcissistic as he not only wrote the novel, but wrote the screenplay as well as played himself in the film. Though, he is mildly attractive so perhaps his narcissism is excusable.
Anyway. I saw the movie on Saturday…by myself because that’s the only way to see a subtitled film really, and when I first left the theatre wasn’t that impressed. The movie follows the daily life of Monsieur Marin, a school teacher in a rough section of Paris. He teaches French and the film centers around him trying to get his ethnically, and culturally diverse student to behave, open up, and learn. He faces challenges that any teacher would: insolent students, students who think they know everything, students with learning disabilities, immigrant students who struggle with language barriers, and naturally gifted students. What’s most odd about this film though, is that none of this man’s teaching methods would fly in the US. I don’t know if I’m critical because I have never been educated outside of the United States, or if this teacher really just is an asshole, but he calls two of his female students “skanks” at one point and then doesn’t understand why one of the male students in the class stands up for them and goes off on him.
When I left the theatre I thought I hated the movie. It was filmed like a documentary, but it was a scripted film. There really was no plot. Once, a conflict arose about the Chinese student Wey, his mother was found to be in the country illegally and was in danger of being deported, but as soon as they dropped the news it was over. They made a huge deal about this poor kid’s mother and his family’s fate in France and then completely dropped the subject. You never do find out what happens.
Another student, Souleymann, is suspended from school for being violent (after the teacher called his friends “skanks”). We watched him struggle with family and school throughout the whole movie–we begin to root for him, yet when he’s suspended we never find out what happens to him. Does he find another school in Paris? Or do his parents send him back to their village in Mali like they threaten to?
See, when the movie was over I found these loose ends to be frustrating, like plot holes. But now, after thinking about it for a few days, I realize that this movie really is what it’s like to be a teacher. Your students don’t respect you, and even if you have to be a dick to keep them in line and to push them to learn and do their best so that they can rise from their economic or social situation, some still fail, some leave school and are never heard from again, and some get lost in the shuffle. It showed how truly difficult it is to be a teacher. You spend 9 months trying to get through to students and just when you think you might, they leave and you don’t know how it ends. Your whole life is an endless cycle of loose ends. You mold minds but never get to see the end result.
That said, after thinking about it in such a context I really did enjoy this movie. I hate to be cliche like most movie commentators, but in retrospect it really was a film about human nature, and the nature of teaching. It was fantastic.