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Review: 'The Class'

Docudrama superbly explores the interplay of a teacher and his racially mixed students in Paris classroom.

Francois Begaudeau plays Francois in The Class.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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Why is it that so few movies set in classrooms ring true? Is it because the filmmakers have blocked out their school years and can't bear to relive them?

Laurent Cantet's "The Class," which takes place over a year in a multiethnic Parisian public school, captures the hectic, giddy, tortuous, inspiring maelstrom of the classroom experience better than any other movie I've ever seen. (It won the Palme d'Or in Cannes last year and is an Oscar nominee for best foreign-language film.) By comparison, such movies as "Dead Poets Society" and "Dangerous Minds" are so much child's play.

Cantet is one of the best directors working in Europe today. His finest film, "Time Out," about a man who pretends to his wife that he still has a job to go to each morning, is a tragicomic masterpiece (and particularly relevant for today's financially strapped world). Although he had long been interested in making a movie about classroom education, it was not until Cantet read a 2006 novel by a French schoolteacher, François Bégaudeau, that the project crystallized. Bégaudeau wrote about the Paris public school where he teaches French. Cantet adapted the book with him and co-writer Robin Campillo and then cast Bégaudeau himself, a charismatic, 30-ish live wire, in the lead.

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