Interview: Laurent Cantet, director of “The Class” (Entre Les Murs)

Laurent Cantet’s movie “The Class” or “Entre Les Murs” (“Between the Walls”) looks at a group of French  students as they go through a year of high school.

It was filmed with three digital cameras over the course of a school year. Most of it takes place in a classroom in a secondary school in the 20th arrondissement, a multi-ethnic neighbourhood of Paris, but the story the movie tells reaches beyond the walls of the classroom, into French society itself.

the-class

The movie stars real students and teachers, including François Bégaudeau, who wrote the autobiographical book on which it is based.

Laurent Cantet was in Hong Kong during this year’s French Cinepanorama. The Works interviewed him.

The Works
“The Class” is the first French movie to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes since 1987? How did you feel taking the stage with your group of young actors?

Laurent Cantet
Getting this award in Cannes was a big surprise for all of us. This film was made in a very particular way of production, a very experimenting way. We don’t have any stars or any professional actors, and the script was always being rewritten during the shooting. It was a real experiment for all of us. The fact this kind of film can find its place in a festival like the Cannes festival is very important for me and we are all very The second thing that made me feel very happy was that we shared this moment with the children that played in the film, with the teacher that played in the film, with the two co-writers in the film. I think this film is a collective work and I feel myself like, how you say, the conductor in music who choose what the best point of view in the situation. But I always tried to involve the people I am working with in the process of creating.

The Works
Why did you choose a docu-drama approach?

Laurent Cantet
I think we have a more and more important part of the cinema that deals with reality, with what’s happening in the world, because the world is getting more and more complex. It’s always more difficult to live in it, and the cinema is showing that more and more precisely. This award also says that the public is able to feel involved in a film that shows the world as it is.

The Works
The school comes across as a microcosm of French society?

Laurent Cantet
We entered the school just to see what’s happening behind those walls, and nobody knows what exactly except the teachers and students, if you were not students or teachers you don’t know what exactly happened between those walls. And the film stays here. It’s important for me that through this littlie microcosmos we could describe the whole world, that those walls are not cutting the school from the world, and all the problems the society has to deal with can enter the school too.

The Works
Were there special challenges or advantages in filming “The Class” as docudrama, with just a small crew and a cast of non-professional actors?

Laurent Cantet
I’m used to working with non-professional actors because I always try to enrich the film by their life experience. And I always listen to what they have to say about their own lives, and to put it into the film. That’s important for me, and that’s the best part of the work for me because I learned a lot from it and I tried to introduce that in my point of view. I also like to work with a small crew, as small as possible, because when there are not too many people around in filming you can feel you are all involved in the same story. And everybody wants to fight for the film for the same film. That’s partly why I have worked with the same producer for 15 years, and had the same cinematographer for all my films. Now we can understand each other almost without speaking.

The Works
The film is based on François Bégaudeau’s book and filmed through the academic year with the students. How close is it to the book and how much is it following the reality unfolding in the classroom?

Laurent Cantet
The film is not a real adaptation of the book. It’s more an extension of the book. It means that I use a lot of things coming from the book, all the documentary aspect of the film. François Bégaudeau, the writer of the book, has been teacher for 10 years. He knew that world much better than I do. He had a point of view from  inside that I would never get. Even though I stayed in the classroom watching lessons I wouldn’t get this kind of insight. So it was important for me to get this image. But I also wrote part of the film that is not in the book, which is all the narrative story. The story of Suleyman comes out of the book progressively in the film. And we followed his story and it becomes the story of the film which is not in the book. François accepted that there would be two aspects of the film: his book and the part of the film that I wrote without him. I think the two aspects really mix together quite well.

The Works
So is it more documentary or drama?

Laurent Cantet
I think the film is a documented film, I want the reality to exist and appear in the film. I want to describe the word as it is, but I never try to be a representative of the whole world. I just try to show a little part of the world, thinking that after that viewers can think by themselves about what it means. My films always ask a lot of questions but never answer them precisely because I don’t have any answers.  The world is too complex and everybody tries to find his place in this world, tries to find his role in the world. But there is no true answer, there is no unique answer to all the questions.

The Works
What do you really want people to take away from “The Class”?

Laurent Cantet
I think the film tries to show that the diversity of our society and culture make them richer, and our teachers have to deal with the mix of all the cultures in the town in their schools. I think what people usually consider as a problem: immigration, integration of all the people coming from all over the world trying to live together, is more like something very good for our society and for our culture. It’s not a problem. That’s the main idea I want to show. I also want to show the school system is very complex. You don’t have one answer to it. There is a lot of contradiction in the system, and this system helps people to live together but at the same time excludes a lot of people because they don’t find their place in the system. The situation shown in the film is not always very comfortable. It’s always very tense between the children and teachers and between the children themselves. But at the same time I think it’s important this kind of space exists just to make them learn to become citizens. You can test things here in the classroom. You can test what it means to be a citizen. You can argue to find a good argument, to impose your way of thinking. And it’s a place where you can really think about what you are becoming.

The Works
How did you choose your actors?

Laurent Cantet
I don’t have the feeling that I chose them. I think they chose to be part of the story. At the beginning of the school year they organised workshops in the school and all the volunteers were welcomed. At the beginning when they came, about 15 students came to see what it was. After a few weeks a lot of them left the workshop because they have many things to do better than this one. So the 25 that stayed are the 25 that are in the film, I never had to say: “You, yes. You, no”. We just made the film with those that are involved in the process.

The Works
Your previous films such as “Time Out”, “Heading South” and now “The Class” tackle social and political issues. Are these what concern you most as a filmmaker?

Laurent Cantet
I am very involved in what’s happening around me when I am making a film. I like to give a view of the world to people that are watching it. It’s important for me because the films I like are the films that ask questions about our society. I’m trying to do the same when I am making films. But I always try to avoid very dogmatic film. I always try to speak of the world through the experience of the characters through the feelings of characters, through the stories, because I like to write stories. That approach makes films that don’t’ say: “Here is what you have to think,” but let people just think with the film, and draw from the film, and not to tell them what to think.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s