A look into French Film: Part 3 of a 3-Part Series

Entre Les Murs: Defining Diversity

A collection of radically diverse and fundamentally different teenagers all stuck together in the same classroom day after day: Such is the scene in Laurent Cantet’s Entre Les Murs, known in English as The Class. The students, brought together for a French course taught by Francois Marin at a Parisian middle school, come from a variety of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds which often causes friction and dispute in the classroom.  The result is an explosive assortment of backgrounds and an instructor attempting to find the one right way so everyone can get along.  This film offers the best perspective on contemporary French culture because it essentially acts as a metaphor for France itself:  racially varied, diverse in background, but held together by the glue of the French language.

The most obvious example of the link between the film and contemporary French culture would have to be how Monsieur Marin faces the same challenges that teachers currently face.  Everyone in his class is different:  There is Esmeralda, a girl who challenges even the most basic of things the teacher presents, Wei, an intelligent but socially awkward Chinese student, Nassim, a new Caribbean student who has trouble blending in, and Souleymane, an African student looking to make trouble. These are just a few of the many backgrounds present in the classroom.  Like present-day instructors, Monsieur Marin looks to find a way that will help every student to get along, learn the right things, and excel both in their education and in their personal lives.  Monsieur Marin gives the students profile assignments, mostly for him to learn about the student, but also for them to learn about themselves.  The task is met with opposition and unwillingness to fulfill the project.  This reaction is not unlike ones had by contemporary students who criticize and disrespect authority and authoritative figures.  Monsieur Marin is faced with students telling him off, asking him why he thinks he is better than them, and purposeless arguments to stall the day’s lessons.  These disputes among many others are likely to be seen in any diverse classroom setting today.

The cultural setting of the classroom is an accurate representation of the modern-day demographics in France.  The country itself is known for nationalist fervor: the French people are proud of their nationality and proud of what it and their language represent.  But with higher immigration rates, leading to a more ethnically diverse population, the French have felt that national fervor threatened.  In The Class, students’ ethnicities are often targeted as a form of ridicule.  Students make fun of Souleymane’s mother because they think she looks weird.  Others make fun of Wei because he is intelligent and they consider him a teacher’s pet. When Nassim announces that he is rooting for a French team in Football, the students from Mali make fun of him for supporting French sports.  Like in contemporary French culture, there is an anti-immigrant atmosphere in The Class that hinders amiable interactions between the students.

Even the subject being taught in the classroom offers a connection to modern French culture.  One of the only things that the French people believe ties the country together is the French language.  The same is seen in The Class.  Though the students come from all sorts of different national backgrounds—Muslim, African, Chinese, Caribbean—they are all in the classroom learning one thing: French.  Oftentimes the students resist and question what they are being taught, just as immigrants to France might resist having to learn the language to blend in with the culture.  However the fact remains that spoken and written French is essentially what forces the students to interact, just as it forces the people in the country to do the same.

To see a preview of Entre Les Murs, click here.


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