About halfway through the acclaimed French drama 'The Class' ('entre les murs'), which won the coveted Palm d'Or at Cannes and was the opening night selection for last year's New York Film Festival, I was about ready to expel myself. Although the box said the film ran 130 minutes, it felt as long as a semester.
Then something happened, and my chilliness towards the movie started to thaw. 'The Class' is based on an autobiographical novel by the film's chief screenwriter and lead actor, Francois Begaudeau, based on his own time in a rough, inner city Parisian middle school. (In a weird way, it sometimes reminded me of Mattieu Kassovitz's still-unparalleled 'La Haine,' if somebody had made those goons go to school instead of wander the outlying Parisian ghettos.)
The movie's narrative is seemingly shapeless - a collection of micro-dramatic moments, spread (without identification - there is no indicator of time, month, semester etc.) over the course of a school year. But there is an arc present for sure, and what I initially found so tedious - the almost real-time interactions between Francois and his students - is what eventually becomes totally endearing. These are real kids, and the shapelessness that initially felt like a liability becomes its biggest asset, moving the story along, unencumbered by having to pause for large dramatic or emotional beats.
As we find out in the special features, all the kids in 'The Class' were real. None of them were actors. They were cast at the actual middle school (Dolto High), then brought together in informal workshops before the screenplay was reworked to fit their distinctive character traits and interactions. (This is the same way Richard Linkleter did 'School of Rock,' and in both cases the organic nature of the performances is truly stellar.)
Director Laurent Cantet directs subtlety, with stark, gorgeous frames. He appropriates a kind of documentary look in the classroom, with the camera scuttling around to different children, complete with handheld camera shakes and micro-zooms. While this is all well and good, it feels less like a stylistic enterprise than an earnest attempt at capturing everything that the children say and do in as realistic a way as possible.
Cantent's use of sound is also admirable - from the cacophony of the schoolyard to the quiet of the teachers' boardroom as they discuss their students, it works without ever being overt. Like everything else in the film, the sound design doesn't beat you over the head with its cleverness, it just fulfills its duties masterfully.
There isn't a whole lot more to say about 'The Class. ' It really is a one-of-a-kind experience that you have to experience for yourself. You can't discuss the plot without making it seem dull, you've just got to take a couple of hours and enroll in 'The Class' for yourself. You won't be sorry that you did.
'The Class' was shot on high definition video, then transferred to 35 mm. As such, it's one of the more handsome-looking digitally-shot films I've seen. (I didn't even realize it was shot digitally.) And, true to form, the MPEG-4 AVC 1080p (aspect ration 2.35:1) transfer is mostly a success... mostly.
Most of the time, the image is clear but unspectacular. Detail is well-defined, colors and skin tones look good, and there's a nice range of both colors and textures - mostly in the clothing that the kids wear. The movie is set entirely in the daytime hours of the classroom, so the depth and complexity of the film's black levels are never tested by night scenes.
The film boasts a warm color palette that does a lot to soften the overall image quality (this could also have something to do with the digital-to-35 mm conversion process), but I would in no way describe the film as looking muddled or blurry. The main problems with the transfer involve the instances in which artifacts mar an otherwise adequate transfer.
It should be noted that this is a Region "free" disc.
The unusual decision has been made to have the main track be a French True HD 3.0 track. This is probably the first disc I've come across with this type of audio, and while it may be strange, that's not to say it's bad in any respect.
Most of the cluttered chaos of the classroom and schoolyard is up front and center, with the majority of dialogue prioritized to the center channel. There aren't a whole lot of atmospheric or punchy sound theatrics, but that's entirely okay. This isn't 'Jurassic Park' we're talking about, after all, it's a small-scale human drama, and for what it is the sound mix works marvelously. There's never any muffled sound, everything is well prioritized, and the full-bodied life of the classroom comes across marvelously.
Also included on the disc is a True HD 3.0 English dub (which I recommend you skip altogether), a Dolby Digital Spanish LCR (discreet) track, and subtitles in English, Spanish, French and English SDH.
An annoying ad trumpeting the awesome home video might of Blu-ray runs at the beginning of this Sony disc, like many others. What's especially baffling are the films highlighted in this sizzle reel. Does Sony really think that people sitting down to watch a contemplative French drama are going to be stoked about high definition releases of 'Hancock' and 'Men in Black?' So bizarre. On that same note, there's a collection of trailers accessible from the 'Special Features' page but honestly, it's not all that special.
Give 'The Class' your time. I was initially skeptical of the film's greatness, but as it wore on, it really got to me. It's a deeply affecting film, unconcerned with pretentious flights of fancy or big emotional moments meant to wring sentimentality out of the situation. It just… is. And it's great. With good audio and video and a large collection of outstanding special features, this is a highly recommended disc for any discerning viewer, although the HD-exclusive extras might not be worth enough to commit to the Blu-ray edition. Just see the movie.