We were doing "pottery" (if you want to call it that) the day we had the substitute. Towards the end of class, and completely unprovoked, Steve rolled up a baseball-size lump of clay, reared back, and delivered it like a split-finger fastball right to the substitute's temple. The substitute, who was probably nearing 70, sort of hunched over with her head in her hands and then went behind some file cabinets and started crying. And that was it. Nobody reported it to the principal or the cops or even asked the teacher if she was okay. Steve didn't get expelled or arrested for battery. We all just stared at our desks until the period ran out and then left. It was just high school.
There are a lot of movies about bad high schools; it's practically become its own genre. But I've never seen one that comes closer to capturing what it's like, on a day to day basis, to go to a shitty high school than The Class. It takes place in a French school, apparently in a rough suburb of Paris, but it could easily be relocated to DeKalb County.
The movie just focuses on one teacher as he struggles to keep order in his French language class, trying to teach quatrains to students who have only a shaky grasp of basic grammar. It doesn't romanticize--or demonize--either the teacher, the students (a fair number of whom are immigrants from places like Haiti or Morocco), or the school. There's no gang subplot and the teacher doesn't smoke crack, but there's no "Stand and Deliver" moment either. It's just day in, day out public school life. There's no real plot, unless you count a troublemaker (who also shows some promise) getting expelled for an episode in class that the teacher himself might have provoked by referring to two of the girl students as "skanks."
What it captures best, I think, is the low-level insanity that's pervasive in a lot of public schools. The kind where any oral presentation can turn into a shouting match or a fight and any attempt by the teacher to keep order will get him accused--openly, by the students--of being a "racist." It only teeters on sentimental for a moment at the end when we learn that one of the "skanks" has been reading Plato on her own. But the teenage actors are unbelievably good--everyone of them reminded me of someone I went to school with--and they're far better than the adults. It is a pretty remarkable movie.