Language and Education in French cinema

Tonight’s Linguists at the Movies (@LinguistsMovies) screening is The Class/Entre Les Murs

As explained in an earlier post, the idea of Linguists at the Movies is that everyone who’s interested accesses a film, presses play at the same time and shares thoughts during or after viewing the film using the hashtag #LinguistsMovies. This week’s film is available to rent or buy on amazon prime in the UK.

Tonight’s screening begins at 7.30pm UK time and is hosted by Billy Clark. Here are some advance thoughts from Billy on the film:

. . .

We usually try to avoid spoilers for LinguistsMovies screenings. I’ll try to do that here.

The film is fascinating for lots of reasons, including its exploration of ideas about language, education, class and identity.

It’s an adaptation of a memoir called Entre les murs (the film’s French title) by François Bégaudeau, based on his own experiences as a teacher. Bégaudeau also co-authored the script and plays a version of himself, François Marin, in the film. Many of the parts in the film are played by people who were not professional actors when the film was shot, including most of the students in the school.

For me, the film was initially interesting as it dramatises classroom issues and problems the teacher and students get into as they work together in class. We see largely from the perspective of the teacher and watch things go wrong while naturally (for me at least) thinking about how we might behave in these situations. Most viewers will be critical of at least some of the things the characters (including the teacher Marin) do and of some of the school policies and procedures.

The school is a collège but I’m not sure exactly how old they are and what class they’re in. I think that they’re around 14 and that they will have one more year in the collège before they move up to lycée for the final three years of school. (If anybody knows for sure, please let me know at billy.clark@northumbria.ac.uk)

There have, of course, been lots of French films which are based in schools and explore, often criticially, ideas about French education. If you’d like to read more, one place to start is this article which discusses Entre les Murs and Abdellatif Kechiche’s 2004 film L’Esquive (‘The Dodge’) ( for historical linguists, esquive is related etymologically to the English word skive):

Strand, Dana. 2009. Être et Parler: Being and speaking French in Abdellatif Kechiche’s L’Esquive (2004) and Lauren Cantet’s Entre les murs. Studies in French Cinema 9.3: 259-272.

Strand’s article mentions several other films which came before this one, including Jean Vigo’s (1933) Zéro de Conduite (‘zero for behaviour’), François Truffaut’s (1959) Les 400 Coups (‘the four hundred blows’), Nicolas Philibert’s (2002) Être et Avoir )’to be and to have’) and Michaele Haneke’s (2005) Caché (‘hidden’) (I wrote about Caché myslf a few years ago). Strand focuses on ideas about language and links these to ideas from the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu who, as Strand points out, was very criticial of the French educational system.

There are other films you might think about while watching this one, including Mathieu Kassovitz’s (1995) La Haine (‘hatred’/’hate’) and Céline Sciamma’s (2014) Bande des Filles (‘Girlhood’).

I definitely recommend the film. For me it’s very engaging and moving in positive and negative ways.

There’s one much-discussed scene about the use of the (imperative) subjunctive but the film raises lots of issues about language and its social roles as well as some explicit discussion of lexical semantics and pragmatics and other things.

So please view along if you fancy it and share thoughts either with the hashtag #LinguistsMovies on twitter or in comments here.

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