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The day Laurent Cantet bumped into the story for his next film

Posted at 5:59 PM on November 13, 2008 by Euan Kerr

One of the films getting lots of Oscar buzz is "The Class" by French director Laurent Cantet. It's the story of a year in a junior high French class in a tough inner city school in Paris.

Cantet was in the MPR studios today, to talk about the film. He said he had been thinking about doing a film about a school because he saw it as a microcosm of the larger challenges facing society. He had even written a script for such a film.

But his plans changed when he was doing publicity in a radio station for his last film, "Heading South" with Charlotte Rampling, which is about sexual tourism in Haiti.

At the radio station he heard a teacher called Francois Begaudeau talk about his book "Entre les Murs" which was about his experiences teaching in a Paris school. As Begaudeau came out of the studio Cantet told him he would be going to buy his book as soon as possible, because he was interested in the subject. Begaudeau said he would love to talk and two days later they agreed to work on the project together.

The film is a fictional story based on a factual book, and to complicate things more the role of the teacher is played by Begaudeau himself. When asked how the teacher reacted when he asked him to play himself, Cantet laughs and says he thinks Begaudeau knew before he did that he would be offered the role.

Cantet says it was almost inevitable because Begaudeau is a great and selfless teacher, and as he, Cantet, approached the story, he was as interested in the teacher as he was the rest of the plot.

They made the film using a script developed after months of improvisation with the 25 13-15 years olds who played Francois' class. It's a simple story, but draws great power from that simplicity and the humanity of the performers.

The film opened to acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival, and went on to win the Palm d'Or. Cantet says he has been pleased to see as he travels with the film that the story appears also to have universal appeal.

The film will open in Los Angeles on December 25th to be eligible for the upcoming Oscars. It will likely open in the Twin Cities in February, and we'll air our chat then.

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