A marvelous new film by the French director Laurent Cantet sits on the cusp between fiction and documentary. Based on François Bégaudeau’s memoir of teaching in a working-class, multicultural Paris high school (the memoir was adapted to film by Cantet, Bégaudeau and Robin Campillo), The Class was shot with nonprofessional actors, and Bégaudeau plays a fictionalized version of himself, a character named François Marin.
Cantet’s documentary realism is fueled by powerful dramatic impulses. Marin is in his fourth year of teaching at the school, and almost all his students are familiar to him from the previous year. We get the sense that rebellious Esméralda (Esméralda Ouertani), who challenges him constantly, has gotten under his skin before now.