French classroom film fuels education controversy

Tue Sep 23, 2008 6:06am EDT
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By James Mackenzie

PARIS (Reuters) - An award-winning film shot in near-documentary style brings life in a difficult Paris high school to the screen and throws the spotlight on a French education system facing mounting pressure to reform.

"Entre les Murs" ("The Class"), shot in a real school and made with a non-professional cast of pupils and teachers, won the coveted "Golden Palm" award at this year's Cannes film festival but only opens in French cinemas this week.

The film has won outstanding reviews although it has also generated criticism from some teachers and one of France's most prominent intellectual commentators, who lamented what he took to be its attitude to France's linguistic and literary heritage.

School protests over spending cuts and a series of reforms by the center-right government of President Nicolas Sarkozy have added to the film's topicality which has also been underlined by several recent controversies over teachers hitting pupils.

Director Laurent Cantet's portrayal of a restless class of teenagers in the College Francoise Dolto, most from immigrant African, Arab or West Indian families, is touching and often very funny, but unlikely to please educational traditionalists.

The class heaps scorn on their teacher's attempts to explain the intricacies of the imperfect subjunctive, answer back constantly and deride what they see as "jambon-beurre" ("ham and butter," a derogatory term for white French) attitudes.

Philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, declared in Le Monde that the film "symbolizes the crisis of a civilization where the great texts no longer have a place. Including in schools."

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