Top critical review
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Great potential, but becomes ponderous
on 17 July 2009
I had been looking forward to seeing this film since first hearing about its achievements at Cannes in 2008. The story is loosely based on the book "Entre Les Murs" - between the walls, François Marin is a teacher in a school for special needs / wayward and disadvantaged children, many of them from France's overseas territories or former colonies.
The first hour or so the film develops well, introducing the main protagonists and the inevitable tensions between them all starting to build - François's frustrations at their inattention to his teachings, the student's frustrations at his inability to empathise and defend them against bad behaviour charges, the frictions of a new boy from the West Indies arriving and clashing with the existing top student dog from Mali, the risk of the class itself turning the tables on the teacher and seeing him expelled from the school.... you have the feeling that the film is building to a crescendo.
I don't want to spoil the movie for others by revealing the end, but all I will say is that, as is so typically the case with some modern 'art house' French cinema, there seems to be a huge reticence to leave anything on the cutting room floor. The scene where the teachers were voting on the future of Souleymane is verging on OTT as the camera follows the transparent ballot box around the teachers and they drop in their folded voting slips. I expect the director may believe there is huge visual metaphor in that - the 'supposed transparency yet closedness' of the school disciplinary process, but I found it laboured and pretentious. And disappointingly, after about 75 minutes in, this is how the films goes, overly ponderous and lingering.
Don't get me wrong - it's a decent film, but one I'd rather have watched lounging around in the comfort of my own home on DVD, when I could have pressed pause and interspersed it with a few shots of Absinthe, not a film to sit for two hours plus upright in a cinema auditorium. In brief - would have benefited from better editing. 6.5/10.0