Saturday, November 14, 2009

ENTRE LES MURS (Laurent Cantet, 2008, France) François struggles to pierce the apathy and unrest of his delinquent students, products of unstructured modernity and burgeoning adolescence. Director Laurent Cantet casts François Bègaudeau the actual teacher and writer of this tough memoir of inner city scholastics, sharpening the cinema verite style and creating a palpable friction between authority and the rebellious youth. Laurent eschews actors and instead chooses to have the teenagers portray themselves, their dialogue loud, impudent, with overlapping arguments and excited utterances, reliving the disease of the classroom. The film is essentially without a fundamental plot and instead centers on individual struggles, vignettes that pry open the hardened foundations of teachers and students to reveal their telltale hearts. François attains that sacred Demilitarized Zone of communication whose ethereal boundaries remain unspoken, neither condescending towards the weakest of his students nor allowing their machinegun-like chatter to overpower his position. Cantet takes us inside the teacher’s lounge where these professionals struggle with their jobs, cursing the disruptive idiots and questioning their own expectations; many see the children as a lost cause, and the few who have a chance are lost amid the inane babble of the violent and hopeless. But we also see from the teenager’s perspectives, their playground society like a prison yard, Darwinian ethics subduing those who truly wish to succeed. François eventually violates the tacit treaty when he loses his temper and curses at two girls by calling them skanks: students who snicker and chew gum and are supposed to be class representatives. He is trying to help Souleymane, a young man who has potential but seems preoccupied with failure, and these girls broke the rules of the meeting by disclosing private information. We quickly discover the double standard of high school morality: François has fallen from his pedestal, his only fault being that he never accepts full responsibility and toys with the use of semantics and context. Souleymane’s tempestuous outburst leaves him facing suspension and though we see the parent/teacher confrontation…the story never veers into melodramatic familial excuses. Cantet’s camera remains rooted in the school for the entire two hours. The secret ballot is taken and we are not allowed to know how François voted but the outcome seems predetermined. The film ends with a quiet young girl, an apparition who haunted the back of the classroom all semester, sadly admitting that she did not learn anything and is afraid to be reduced to Vocational School. She is one of the lost children, to remain forever intellectually inert, who will always be a ghost in society’s machine. The final shot of a disheveled classroom, chairs and desks askew, is an apt metaphor for our lost generations. (B)


smarthotoldlady said...

The big question remains: is school for everyone? At least, schools structured as they are now. Those of us with degrees assume that you have to do those things in school and later in college in order to validate your intelligence, but there are very intelligent people who never valued school or schoolish concerns. (See my blog post "Scores to Settle")

Alex DeLarge said...

I don't believe Public Schools are for everyone, especially people who need specific attention. Even in College I felt that it was mostly memorization and not learning which bored me to tears. Fortunately, I test well if I act out (RE: re-writing notes and reading them out loud) what I'm trying to learn. I'm a visual thinker and need to discuss and use props to help me retain info or a task...but our school systems aren't designed that way. But home schooling lacks the intensity of socialization and kids need to discover all types of people to exist in society, for better and worse.
I'll definately check out your post!

smarthotoldlady said...

The assumption behind "people who need special attention" is that those people need special attention to make them learn what everyone else has been decreed to learn by government fiat. My point is that every child doesn't have to learn the standard curricula, that "no child left behind" is a motto that means we should be turning out clones. I have a copy of The Class, but haven't had time to watch it yet, but I'm interested if its point is that some kids just don't belong in a traditional school and should be allowed to get training in what interests them and any basic math and reading skill they learn as part of their training, say as a mechanic or body shop tech, and they don't need spelling, for instance except perhaps for looking things up in manuals, so that would be the spelling words they need to know. You have to see the blog. The next one, when I finish the writing project I'm immersed in now (doing the final edit and the final changes in a 400 page manuscript) will be on the diagnosis of autism or Asperger's for kids who don't conform to "normal" behaviors.

I love your blog and have introduced it to some friends of mine, including Ken Gumbert, who is a documentary film maker. He was most impressed.

Alex DeLarge said...

Again, thank you very much!

I think you'll find the film interesting because it focuses on the fact that trying to teach everyone really means churning out clones...and no one really learns anything useful.

Education seems to be like Justice: it works for people who can afford it.