Class Frown: B?gaudeau?s Miran gets angsty with his kids.

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It’s hard to imagine François Miran encouraging his students to tear pages from their textbooks or leap onto their desks in The Class—partly because a few of them routinely “forget” even to bring their books, but mostly because the majority of them can’t be bothered to follow his instructions anyway. In fact, there’s no Dead Poets Society or Dangerous Minds–esque payoff at all in Laurent Cantet’s film about a multicultural classroom in inner-city Paris. Marin (François Bégaudeau) may be a young, struggling teacher, but you get the feeling he’d sooner quit than try to win over the brats by trying to be anyone’s buddy or thinking too far outside the traditional student-authority figure box. Begaudeau essentially plays a version of himself in this Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee, a fictionalization of the autobiographical novel in which he documented a single school year. Never straying farther than the schoolyard, The Class peeks into staff meetings but mostly plants itself in Marin’s unruly classroom, where the students are played by nonprofessional actors who mainly improvise—a technique that gives the film such a strong documentary feel you’ll want to smack the kids upside the head whenever Marin has to restrain himself. Not that he’s a model educator: Though he tries to spin every disruption into a teachable moment and doesn’t share the zero-tolerance attitude of some of his colleagues, Marin often loses his temper and at one point goes so far as to tell two girls that they’re behaving like “skanks.” The incident is shocking, to the students and to viewers, and it sets off a maelstrom that results in accidental violence and the possibility of expulsion for one of the school’s most difficult kids. The film’s slice-of-life style, while always arresting, rarely cuts too deep. But its message is incisively delivered in one of its final scenes, which makes a devastating point of what can happen to the quietly struggling student while the squeaky wheels are being oiled.