Laurent Cantet captures what amounts to The François Bégaudeau Show (he wrote it, he stars, it's based on his experiences & book) in this oddly ineffective though wildly acclaimed, award-winning pic. It’s a bit more (and a bit less) than one of those year-in-the-life teacher/student tales (recent example: THE RON CLARK STORY/’06) but with a new gimmick: rather than being traditionally structured to follow the dramatic arc of a pivotal school year (ending on an uplifting note), it’s designed to play like a documentary (more HOOP DREAMS/’94 than BLACKBOARD JUNGLE/’55) using improv acting & story building techniques similar to a Mike Leigh film and the directorial stratagems of the Brothers Dardennes. But even with its untidy stories and unresolved inter-personal relationships, the situations feel old-hat and often frustratingly opaque. It’s always an eye-opener to watch a film set in one of the tourist-phobic Paris arrondissements, but the Benetton-ready ethnic mix of kids, coupled with the peculiarities of the French school system force more provocations at us than a David Mamet diatribe. Is it supposed to feel this manipulative?
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: While it feels a world away in place & time, François Trufaut’s SMALL CHANGE/’76 (L’ARGENT DU POCHE) keeps it focus on the school kids, and looks fresher than ever.