Trapped in class

The characters are not likeable, the film is not uplifting, there is no killer soundtrack — this film is undeniably French.Claustrophobic and tense, the audience is trapped “between the walls” of François Marin’s classroom when watching “Entre Les Murs” or the alternate English title “The Class.”The documentary-like movie follows a Parisian schoolteacher, François Marin, played by François Bégaudeau, who teaches French language and literature to inner-city teenagers, mostly of African, Caribbean and Asian decent. Marin confronts disrespect and cultural clashes inside the walls of his classroom.The film is based on the autobiographical book “Entre Les Murs” by author, screenwriter and lead actor Bégaudeau. It is not often for the names of the characters on the left to be identical to the actors on the right when the credits roll, but not only did Bégaudeau play a version of himself in the film, but the students play themselves as well.The students are frustrating, hostile and even annoying. Director Laurent Cantet creates the feeling of being trapped in the tense, sometimes explosive, but definitely cramped space of Marin’s classroom — from the squeaking of moving chairs down to the conjugation of the imperfect subjunctive verb tenses.Although the movie is in no way a feel-good film, it gives an honest look at what actually occurs in urban schools. It is hard not to scream as the hostile teenagers constantly push Marin closer to his breaking point.  But even more challenging is to stay awake through the length of the two hours and 15 minute of it, the major flaw of the film.The inevitable, expected collision between the authority of the teacher and the provocations of the students leads to a gripping and mesmerizing chain of events including “skanks,” violence and expulsion.The classroom, continually changing, effectively reveals the power relationships and personal relationships that remain in flux from day to day. The film melds together documentary methods and dramatic methods to create a hybrid film of emotion, politics, observation and investigation.