Two hours of talking in rooms and corridors... even without its Oscar nomination, 'The Class' might struggle to get a wider audience. But Laurent Cantet's Palme d'Or-winning film deserves to be seen by as many people as possible - from the teenagers in secondary schools to the guy shaking his head at their conversations on the bus.
Based on star François Bégaudeau's best-selling book - which was inspired by his year teaching in an inner city school in Paris - 'The Class' follows passionate and idealistic French Language teacher François Marin (Bégaudeau) as he tries to inspire a group of 13 and 14-year-olds of very mixed ability, attention spans and manners. It's a two-steps-forward-one-step-back relationship: one day he gets most of them interested in something, the next it's a wasted hour. Seen by some as a classic example of the middle class establishment, Marin nevertheless preserves with his work, hoping that he will connect with some of the students and make them see the potential in themselves - and knowing that others will fall by the wayside.
Avoiding the use of professional actors - the teachers are real teachers at the school, the students are students and the parents, with one exception, are parents - 'The Class' is a fascinating commentary on France today which has a lot of relevance for Ireland, now and in the years to come. Shot in a documentary style, the film is brilliantly paced and its script crackles with the electricity of real-life exchanges as the students and the teacher put each other through their paces. If you're someone who thought that the fourth, high school-set series of 'The Wire' was the best, then you'll find a lot of the same emotions coming to you again here - from the rowdiest to the meekest, you become attached to every character, wishing the best for them and thinking back to how you tried to make sense of the world at that age.
There are some issues with certain elements of the story that are left unfinished when they had been flagged in various scenes (the possible deportation of a boy's mother, a former pupil's return after his expulsion) but these are minor issues in what feels like a landmark film. Whatever these teenagers go on to do in the years to come, what they've achieved already is remarkable. Having succeeded where thousands of young actors would fail, they should believe that nothing is beyond them.