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I deeply, deeply love this film. Reichardt has crafted a masterful meditation on solitude and the emotional cost of living close to the bottom of the social pyramid. Excised of all miserabilism and self-pity, Wendy's quest in accessing her own liberty is nothing less than deeply affecting, especially during these harsh economical times. It's a dramatic, minimalist film that demands both patience and appreciation for what's not immediate, but for those that enjoy quiet and slowly revealing cinema, there is much to be adored in this one. It's refreshing to have a reminder that we often let the plot and narrative drive stand between us viewers and the character. Reichardt also spares us the gritty, worn-out look that usually passes for 'realism' these days and coats her film with beautiful (though not showy) photography and long, expressive silent takes. Capped with a magnetic and beautifully internalized performance by Williams, Wendy and Lucy might perhaps be one of the most powerful offerings of the year.
My full review in French at :
This... is it.
It's right here. This is, hands down, the best film of 2008. Among everything terrible, bad, okay, good and extraordinary I have seen all year, there is no other picture to even come close to how terrific and deeply affecting Entre les Murs is.
I am not in any way exaggerating how powerful this film is. It is, to me, a revolutionary piece of work that DOES push the limits of the seventh art, in the sense that it succeeds by both presenting & analyzing a reality that would make most flinch. It is art as a magnifying glass. There is no sentimentality, no segment that feels fabricated to pass a point, no nothing. It trades any commercial compromise possible for a raw, disturbing but nevertheless uplifting dissection of the french educational system. Beyond that, there is also a message on any educational system. Beyond that, there is a poignant study on adult-teenager dialogue, too. And beyond that, there is a brilliant take on the human condition.
First things first : I have never seen a film sneak up on me like that. Fueled by rave reviews, I knew this film was going to be somewhat excellent before I even entered the theater. But its greatness is not at all how I expected it to land, not by a long shot : there is not a trace of pretense, no elaborate directorial adjustment to highlight every point that is made, nor the manipulation of a film score-- hell, the tense, revealing and sometimes chaotic sound design of the titular classroom provides better music than any skillful composer could have brought. The film is, to put it plainly, alive. It breathes the crushing ambiguity of the face-offs between teachers and students-- that is, when the doors are open for a confrontation. Otherwise, the harshness of having to deal with young individuals that dispiritingly refuse to settle is painted. It's nothing less than suffocating : I admit I was more than uncomfortable watching a great deal of scenes. It brings us back to a fundamental question : is it possible for the right to dialogue with the wrong if there exists no will to do so on the latter's side?
Beneath what first seem as an anecdotal collection of extremely realistic (or one might just say as well authentic) classroom scenes, a crescendo is slowly installed. As the year progresses (and as we get further insight on most of the coldly insubordinate students), a crisis becomes more and more apparent. Teachers meet, discuss and argue about certain cases of rough behaviors, and then find temporary solutions (read : punishment) to deal with those types of kids. Eventually, a moral conflict is more than apparent, thanks to the possible outcome of expelling an extremely troublesome student. By that point, the film has reached an almost thirty-minute long climax that opposes drastically different perceptions on education. The dilemma is deeply discomforting. One of the teachers on the radical side even suggests his method might be comparable to 'buying social peace'-- so what if the headstrong but alarmingly refractory student is sent away? The school will benefit from it. His surrounding shouldn't have to pay for his indiscipline, right? Some of the observations Francois' colleagues bring are just as thought provoking, if not more.
There is no line drawn. There is no answer.
Without the disarming naturalism of its performers, Entre les Murs would be a remarkable exercise. But the realness and spontaneity among the actors, from Francois Begaudeau to his students to his fellow teachers, is just jaw-dropping. It lifts the picture to a whole other level, where it is disquieting to observe so many real people interact without having any of them put on a 'performance' (i.e. knowing a camera is placed on them). I repeat : there is not a single moment in the entire 129-minute running time where a feeling appears simulated.
The recurring use of handheld camera perfectly captures the bleak, unnerving atmosphere of classroom exchanges-- its cinema verite look is on par with the similarly humane drama Rachel Getting Married. Like that film, what drives the story is not a conventional connect-the-dots narrative, but rather a frighteningly well-chosen depiction of the moments scattered across a given period of time.
This, my friends, is heavy stuff. I came out of Entre les Murs severely shaken-- in one of the final scenes, where Francois asks his students what they have learned through the year, an emotional wrecking ball is swung right into our face. While its american counterparts like the thoroughly bland Freedom Writers mistake dramatic impact with easy-as-fuck maudlinism, this one refuses to give us relief by the time it's over. There is no happy ending, but there is no sad ending either-- in fact, the only thing that ends is the school year. The machinery rests for a whole summer, and it will start working again. The absence of a cinematic, audience-friendly 'closure' brings this masterpiece scarily closer to reality... again.
Run see this film. Bring your children, friends, family-- it doesn't matter if they find it boring or slow-moving. I am convinced this phenomenal achievement is going to be looked back on, and probably understood well after the credits have rolled. Maybe much later in their life. Maybe not. But they will still have been exposed to an indescribably brilliant film.
Run see Entre les Murs.
If there is a film that deserves your hard-earned money, it's this one.