We’re all familiar with the concept of making it up as we go along. For film director Laurent Cantet though, the approach is practically a way of life — or, at least, it’s a way of making movies.
His new picture, The Class (Entre les murs), which won the prestigious 2008 Palme d’Or at Cannes and seems a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film, is full of the spirit of improvisation, and presents an intriguingly complex social and political mosaic.
“I try to take a risk in reconstituting the incongruity of life,” Cantet remarked. That incongruity involves loosely adapting a book by French school teacher Francois Begaudeau about how this dedicated, idealistic instructor tried to teach a diverse group of students from various social classes and cultures. The results were as diverse as the students themselves.
In The Class, Begaudeau plays Francois Martin, a version of himself, while Cantet casts a number of non-actors to play the students. What Cantet provides is a facsimile of documentary realism that remains dramatically potent. But the book and subsequent script became just a starting point for his story.
“In life, situations are very often less logical than a script purports life to be,” Cantet explains. “So I try to bring some order into all of this.”
After meeting Begaudeau while on promotional tours, Cantet read his book and immediately admired his zeal.
“I liked the way (Francois) was pushing the students to think about what they were doing and why they were at school and what their life there was about,” Cantet remarks.
“Both of us saw the classroom as a microcosm from which you can go into the rest of the world.”
For the students, the international acclaim of the picture has been edifying. “They were happy that they were being listened to without being judged or stigmatized,” he says.
“Francois’ ideal is to help his students grow and establish a level playing field,” Cantet remarks. “It’s wonderful to have these ideals — but life always intervenes.”