Lessons Of France's 'The Class' Transcend Borders Authenticity was important to the producers of The Class,, which is based on a book by a former middle school teacher. Some American teachers say that while the film is set in France, it also provides a window into what goes on in an urban middle school in the United States.
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Lessons Of France's 'The Class' Transcend Borders

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Lessons Of France's 'The Class' Transcend Borders

Lessons Of France's 'The Class' Transcend Borders

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ARI SHAPIRO, Host:

The only people who really know what goes on inside a particular classroom are the teacher and the students. The parents, the principal, and other teachers don't really understand, and that idea intrigued the filmmaker behind "The Class." The movie is nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. And teachers are saying if you want to see what goes on in an urban American middle school, see this French movie. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Unidentified Man #1: (French spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE CLASS")

CYNTHIA MOSTOLLER: I laughed about it because the teachers do exactly that thing. We look at last year's lists and say, good, good. Oh, trouble. Good, good. Yeah, you'll love that child. Oh, watch out for that one.

BLAIR: Cynthia Mostoller is an eighth grade teacher at Alice Deal Middle School in Washington, D.C.

MOSTOLLER: Then I said, oh, the French are just like the Americans.

BLAIR: Authenticity was important to the producers of "The Class." The story is based on a book by a former middle school teacher in Paris. The author, who's now an actor, plays a version of himself in the film. The students are played by non-actors. So even though the film is fiction, it sometimes has the feel of a documentary. The middle school is in a tough, largely immigrant neighborhood.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE CLASS")

FRANCOIS MARIN: (French spoken) Hey, hey, hey. Whoa.

BLAIR: Unidentified Man #2: (French spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE CLASS")

LAURENT CANTET: Francois is, you know, just a teacher who is trying to do his best and sometimes make mistakes, sometimes makes very good things.

BLAIR: Laurent Cantet, who directed "The Class," had the cast work from a script. But he also encouraged them to improvise. And that realism appealed to Ana Hernandez, a counselor at Alice Deal Middle School in D.C.

ANA HERNANDEZ: Unlike a lot of the teacher films made in Hollywood, it's - they're usually an extraordinary human being or super charismatic. And if you work in a school, it's really hard to sustain that charisma and that stamina for years, for five, six periods a day, every day.

BLAIR: It was also important to Laurent Cantet that he capture what it's like for students who are around 13, 14 years old, a turning point in their lives.

CANTET: It's the moment you start to think of yourself in the society.

BLAIR: Unidentified Woman: (French spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE CLASS")

BLAIR: Esmeralda is bright, but she's also disruptive and confrontational.

MOSTOLLER: I have an Esmeralda this year who - I keep telling her that she's going to be a warrior woman if she ever decides to use her talents for constructive purposes.

BLAIR: Cynthia Mostoller says as an eighth grade teacher, it's easy for her to write off students like Esmeralda.

MOSTOLLER: Unidentified Woman: (French spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE CLASS")

BLAIR: But at the end of the film, Esmeralda reveals that she read her older sister's copy of Plato's "Republic."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE CLASS")

MARIN: Unidentified Woman: (French spoken)

MOSTOLLER: We look at these kids, we forget to appreciate that they do have potential. We've decided very early, she's not going to learn anything from us, and so don't worry about it. And she comes through with the "Republic" and expresses very nicely some of the important lessons of that book.

BLAIR: Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

SHAPIRO: You can hear more from the director of "The Class" at our Web site: npr.org.

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