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DID YOU READ

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 Those students — Chinese, Moroccan, Malian, Arabic, white, sullen or outspoken, aggressive or withdrawn — are more than just a conveniently rainbowed collection.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)

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…