Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Entre les murs

Several friends had recommended a recent French movie to me: Entre les murs (English title: The Class), and now I in turn would like to recommend it to my readers! Based on a young teacher's published autobiography, with a script developed in improvisation workshops with French middle school students who play characters named after themselves, it dances between documentary and fiction. (I will also add it to my slowly growing list of French Films That Aren't Freaky.)

Entre les murs seems an honest portrayal of an ethnically diverse middle school classroom on the outskirts of Paris as seen through the eyes of a young, smart, genuinely caring, but flawed and frustrated male French teacher. Watching it took me right back to my year as an Assistante d'anglais at a highschool in Mulhouse--students named Samia and Yasmina and Nabil sitting two to a table along with the Sophies and Mathieus, all with their little trousses of fountain pens, ballpoint pens, pencils, highlighters, rulers, and white-out perched above their grid-lined notebooks, asking me to translate the latest Nirvana song for them. Oh, and the teachers smoking in the staff room, yes, the principal giving the teachers their schedule the day before school started, the students congregating during lunch in an asphalt courtyard.

(However, unlike in the film, at my school in France no teacher ever announced her pregnancy by popping open a bottle of champagne to share with her colleagues in the teachers' lounge!)

The reason I've watched this movie twice so far is that the language use strikes me as true-to-life, which means it's a real challenge for me without the subtitles. (Not that a mumbling, sarcastic, slangy, fourteen-year-old is that easy to understand in English either, for that matter.) It's excellent practice for my French listening comprehension.

I particularly appreciate the commentary portion of the special features on the DVD: the writer and director talk about two of the key scenes, and they pause the movie frequently to discuss it in detail, not like most commentaries which quickly degenerate into the speakers' recollections of inside jokes from the filming and lavish praise for each other's acting/directing/outfits.

Instead, these two explain the process of leading the improv workshops for the students in those specific scenes, ponder the characters' motivation, ask each other questions, and more. This commentary is even better listening practice, because it involves articulate adults speaking in a non-scripted way! If I were still teaching intermediate (or higher) French classes, I would be tempted to develop some lesson plans based on the DVD commentary.

Any recommendations for other French films whose commentaries could be useful for language teachers or slightly rusty francophiles like myself?


  1. Congrats on your blog! There's a Canadian movie I liked a lot, they speak Canadian French, C.R.A.Z.Y.
    Have a nice day! Regards from Barcelona,

  2. Hi, Definitely a great way to learn french. I have watched that movie. Children there are cute and lovely.
    Nice sharing of information and keep posting.