La Classe (The Book)

After viewing “The Class” last week, I read Francois Begaudeau’s book “The Class,” on which the movie was based, this week. Two big differences emerge between the movie and the book.

The book is very loosely structured, in essence a set of Begaudeau’s vignettes and reflections on a year of teaching grammar and composition to his eighth grade class. It lacks a strong plot-line. Movies need a strong plot-line, and the vignettes were adopted and rearranged to create one. His confrontation with the two student representatives at the evaluation meetings occurs early in the book (p. 75 to be sure) and nothing more is heard of it. In the movie, however, that confrontation is elevated to the key turning point in the plot.

By the way, the derogatory term Begaudeau used to describe the student representatives’ behaviour was “petasses,” which appears to be most accurately translated by the word “skank,” which has a distinct connotation of sexual promiscuity. The women, not surprisingly, were insulted and offended by his choice of words.

The second difference between the book and the movie is point of view. The book is written in the first person and very clearly represents Begaudeau’s point of view. Thus we have his perceptions of and reactions to his students. He has a privileged opportunity to explain himself. Despite his idiosyncrasies, the reader is quite likely to finish reading feeling sympathetically towards Begaudeau.

The movie is more impartial. The camera observes the action from the students’ viewpoint just as much as from Begaudeau’s. So we often see Begaudeau as he is seen by his students. In addition, the students, too, have physical presence, energy, and attractiveness. From their viewpoint, as I reported last week, Begaudeau doesn’t seem so heroic.

Reading the book and watching the movie side-by-side is a good reminder of the differences between the two media and the influence these differences have on how we perceive narratives presented on both.

I’ll be taking next week off – one last week in the country before Labour Day and, to use the French term for it, la rentree. Au revoir le 10 septembre.

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