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NYFF 2008: “The Class.”

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10012008_theclass.jpg“The Class,” Laurent Cantet’s very fine film about an academic year in a life of a teacher and his students at an inner city Parisian middle school, gets its structure and its strength from limitations. The camera doesn’t wander outside of the walls of the school; it seldom leaves the classroom, the only meaningful place of intersection between the worlds of François Marin, imperfect instructor, and his boisterously mixed bag of multicultural pupils. When a student departs for the day, or summer, or forever, he or she might as well be oceans away, news of homelife trickling back in through schoolmates or other teachers or, just as obtusely, from the parents in their rare pilgrimages to the building for state-of-things meetings. Marin isn’t going to make house calls or bail kids out of jail in the middle of the night or wrest crack pipes from their blackened fingers on street corners and haul them off for a stint of DIY rehab in his guest room. Teaching is his calling, but it’s also his job, and, like anyone else, he gets frustrated, tired, has off days and needs to sneak a secret cigarette in the emptied cafeteria.

“The Class” is shot in a loose, multi-camera, doc-inspired style, using improvisation and a cast of mainly non-professional actors, including François Bégaudeau, the screenwriter and former teacher who wrote the semi-autobiographical novel on which the film is based, as Marin. All these things make the film sound awfully austere, but it’s not at all — “The Class” is funny and confrontational and has a swing to its step, and sometimes seems more than the cameras can keep up with as they wander over the faces of the students or linger on Marin as he struggles to answer a particularly tough question. Those students — Chinese, Moroccan, Malian, Arabic, white, sullen or outspoken, aggressive or withdrawn — are more than just a conveniently rainbowed collection. They’re an open representation of New France, and a vivid challenge to Marin, calling out his tendency to use only Caucasian names when writing example sentences on the chalkboard (“Aïssata,” one insists, would be a better choice), and questioning why they have to learn an archaically formal tense that’s all but useless. Marin, instead of resting on his authority, actually turns these remonstrations into dialogues, and yields when he should. Less laudably, his technique of engaging with the class sometimes finds him baiting the students or talking down to them, and, in the slip of judgment that leads to the mini-crisis that’s the closest the film has to a plot, referring to the behavior of two girls as that of “skanks.”

If “The Class” were just meant as an antidote to the long course of ridiculous inspirational classroom movies, the shape it takes would be enough. But Cantet’s film is also resolutely evenhanded with the way its school’s determinedly democratic processes can fail. Having student representatives at a staff-wide evaluation of the class members backfires, and a disciplinary hearing about a possible expulsion leaves a boy too angry and distant to defend himself. And at the very end of the year, a quiet girl comes up and confesses that she hasn’t learned anything at all, and that she’s afraid she’s going to be tracked for the vocational school and a lifetime in a lower economic bracket, and Marin has nothing more encouraging to offer her than that she has one more year left. The film doesn’t close off with updates of the fates of the students — it’s not “based on a true story.” In the best way, it doesn’t feel like a story at all.

“The Class” will open in New York and L.A. December 12th. For more coverage of the New York Film Festival, click here.

[Photo: “The Class,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2008]

+ “The Class” (NYFF)
+ “The Class” (Sony Pictures Classics)


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.