Entres Les Murs, film 2 on my Foreign Language Film Challenge shortlist, was not only shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2008 Oscars, but also won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in the same year. Set in a school in a working class area of Paris, this is an extraordinary film about an unextraordinary topic; a year in the life of Marin (François Bégaudeau), a French language and literature teacher at the school. Marin is deeply involved in his job, and the only scene we see set outside of the school is the opening scene of him finishing his coffee at a Café before he “entres les murs”, or enters the walls of the school.
The classrooms scenes in particular are wonderful- we see Marin’s liberal idealism come up against a bunch of teenagers testing the boundaries of his authority, and questioning his methods. The film reflects the changing nature of French society, and in one memorable scene Marin is seen explaining why the teaching of a particular French clause is necessary, despite the students arguing that no-one talks like that.We also see the students asking why his examples always contain “Whitey” names like Bill and Bob, rather than Aissata or Rachid or Ahmed.
The film builds wonderfully to a climax, and is hugely tense and thrilling throughout, despite what seem like a mundance subject- the Guardian described it as “a thriller in the guise of a social-realist arthouse movie”. You gain sympathy and understanding for the characters, see their joys and pains, and learn a lot from the subject just like Marin and his students learn a lot from each other. The fact that François Bégaudeau is basically playing himself- he wrote the novel on which the film is based- and that most of the students are non-professional actors, often improvising, makes it even more extraordinary- or perhaps it makes it that much more believable.
Steve’s Rating: *****