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The Real Transformers

The Real Transformers
Spring 2010 | Volume 33, Number 1 | Books & Film

This Teacher — and This Movie — Are Not What You’d Expect

Mr. Marin and The Class

Actor Francois Bégaudeau
Based on a true story: Actor Francois Bégaudeau drew on real-life teaching experience to play a teacher in a very tough classroom.

Think of your favorite big-screen attorney. To Kill A Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch, perhaps? Think of the knights in shining armor — or war paint — like William Wallace in Braveheart. Consider the truth-seekers, such as the sneaky fact-finder in Erin Brockovich. Count the charismatic teachers: Dead Poets Society’s John Keating, Mr. Holland and his Opus.

The big screen has inspired us with a wide variety of heroic leaders.

But Mr. Marin? He’s rather unique.

Mr. Marin is a Parisian middle-school teacher in Laurent Cantet’s award-winning film The Class, and he’s just trying to survive another class period. He and his students aren’t what we’re used to seeing at the movies.

Marin’s not a comedian like Robin Williams or a motivational speaker. He isn’t the kind of teacher who is going to unify his class and achieve a thrilling victory by the end of the school year. These students won’t stand up on their desks and salute him — in fact, they’re as reckless at the year’s end as they were at the beginning. We won’t visit Marin in his apartment and learn about his family struggles or private life. But his public face — or rather, his classroom face — reflects the fears, stresses, inspirations, and triumphs experienced by heroes who live in almost every neighborhood, almost every city in the world.

Marin’s lesson isn’t “Seize the day,” the Dead Poets Society mantra. It’s more like this: “Slow down. Think. Share your perspective. And listen to each other. Because your opinion, your experience, your story — it matters. The hard work of listening to one another, and engaging one another with civility and courage, is key to peace and progress in our world.”

Facing a volatile, spirited, multiethnic crowd of thinkers, troublemakers, cynics, and egoists, Marin struggles to keep the peace and to challenge his rowdy youngsters. The tensions between the students, and between the teachers as well, are so true-to-life, it’s unnerving.

That’s because this cinéma vérité drama is based on the autobiographical book Entre les Murs, written by the actor who plays Mr. Marin in the film, a former teacher named Francois Bégaudeau. With so much expertise driving the screenplay and the performances — the children are real Parisian students, playing characters based on themselves — the film become a lifelike representation of a typical day in the French education system.

When The Class was screened at the 2008 Cannes film festival, the jury blessed director Laurent Cantet with its highest award: the Palme d’Or. It’s easy to see why. It’s a must-see for teachers, teachers in training, and for anyone interested in the challenges of being a leader in a multicultural society.

It’s the kind of movie that might convince some people that they don’t have what it takes to be a teacher. It might inspire others to bring new ideas to the table.

—By Jeffrey Overstreet []

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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Books and Film Highlights

Finding Chief Kamiakin
A professor’s book becomes a finalist for a Washington State Book Award.

Dark Water
An instructor in SPU’s M.F.A. program, wins a Washington State Book Award.

Mr. Marin and the Class
This teacher — and this movie — are not what you'd expect.

From Faculty Authors
Faculty members have published books that are gaining attention.