Film for thought

The Class plonks us right in the middle of a classroom. We are this close to the people who inhabit the space,the teacher,over there in the red corner.

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Published: September 18, 2010 12:30:20 am

The Class plonks us right in the middle of a classroom. We are this close to the people who inhabit the space,the teacher,over there in the red corner,and the students,spread all over the blue corner. Laurent Cantet’s film which won the top award at Cannes in 2008,the first French film to do so in 20 years,tells us something we mostly forget when we step out of our own classrooms: that power is shared,between the teacher who may look in complete control,and the students,traditionally in the more vulnerable,weaker position.

Francois Begaudeau,who wrote the novel on which the film is based,plays the lead. You can see how completely,and competently,he fills his role—that of an adult trying to make sense of his young students’ very tough life. The school is in a rough Paris borough,and the students are a polyglot mix,from different races and different cultures: the Parisian melting pot is on full throbbing display here.

Some students are permanent backbenchers,not really interested in anything other than whiling their time away. Some are genuinely curious,intent upon making something of themselves. And there’s the one troublemaker,again of the sort that usually occurs every year in every class,who doesn’t really want to get into trouble but can’t quite help himself. Souleyman drives his teacher to the point of no return: Begaudeau loses his cool,calls the students names,and the situation quickly gets out of hand.

In the special features,the director talks about how they achieved the startlingly life-like quality in the film. The kids,all ‘natural born actors’,were in rehearsal for a year,and rapidly became oblivious to the camera in their midst. This school,more than most,is part of a larger world,and the tensions outside,felt by the parents and the teachers,are felt equally inside the classroom. Both Cantet and Begadeau were interested in not just the obvious details of school life,which they call a “roller coaster”,but in the “in-between” moments,“the tough moments and the moments of grace”,where some will win,and some will,inevitably,lose.

Children in Battle

Turtles Can Fly is a film about the devastation caused by war. And like all good films about war,it highlights the utter futility of endless strife. It is also about the end of innocence.

Bahman Ghobadi’s multiple award-winning film paints a bleak landscape. A refugee camp is a place where everything is out of whack. Everyone,the old and the young,stumbling in and out of tattered tents,is displaced. Especially the children whose leader is the spunky 13- year-old Satellite,who dreams of making a quick buck. His little army is kept busy in collecting unexploded mines which he sells. The money that comes in is in no way recompense for the loss of limbs: the most wrenching scenes in the film belong to these armless and legless kids,who scramble up and down hilly paths,searching for the deadly explosives. A little girl and her crippled brother arrive in the Kurdish camp,and Satellite’s life takes a turn.

A parallel thread runs through the film about how news of the war is being disseminated outside the country: an abandoned TV set which Satellite brings to life has blurred black and white images of soldiers marching,and loud gunfire. The elders stare at the TV,which speaks in English,in bafflement. There’s nothing comprehensible about war.

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