Laurent Cantet discusses his Palme d'Or winning school-set drama, The Class, which last year became the first French film to win the top prize at Cannes in over 20 years.
Filmmaking was the not the obvious career choice for Frenchman Laurent Cantet. Both his parents were teachers and he describes himself as "on a leave of absence from teaching." In fact his films usually have some lessons to impart going back to his multi-award winning feature debut Human Resources (1999) which looks at the complicated politics between a working-class father and his executive son. He followed that up with Time Out (2001) - a winner at the Venice Film Festival - about an unemployed man who becomes increasingly alienated from society. More recently there was Heading South (2005), a sort of socially conscious Shirley Valentine following three women on holiday to poverty-stricken Haiti.
The Class consisted of volunteers from the school.
His latest opus The Class, based on an autobiographical novel by François Bégaudeau, goes straight to the heart of his concerns about French society. The students who make up the supporting cast reflect the changing face of a country, one that is culturally diverse and economically divided. When a young, well-intentioned teacher (Bégaudeau essentially playing himself) enters the class, it appears the stage is set for a formulaic tale of a liberal do-gooder who aims to win hearts and minds. However, Cantet's film is far from a love-in, more a subtle critique of the teaching system, and his documentary-like approach also gives it an immediacy and dynamism that lacks in Hollywood's usual take on the classroom drama.
Filming on HD cameras helped Capture the details which make The Class 'feel real'.
Cantet has already been awarded the prestigious Golden Palm at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival and earned an Oscar nomination in the Best Foreign Film category. He talks to BBC Film Network about his own teaching experience on the film; taking a bunch of regular students from a deprived neighbourhood and turning them into film actors.
The Class is released in UK cinemas on Friday 20th February 2009.
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