This is a French version of the “How can I reach these kids?!?!” genre, a genre I really, really dislike. But, I must say, this is a pretty excellent variation in part because it avoids most of the pitfalls of the American style.
Basically everyone in the film is played by amateurs. That sometimes leads to wooden acting but, when it works well as it does here, it leads to a naturalistic vibe which is really helpful. It’s really easy to believe Begaudeau was a teacher. And it’s easy to believe these kids are students, because they are. The vibe feels really, really authentic.
The American versions of these films unfold the same way, the kids don’t like the teacher, the teacher struggles to figure out how to help them, eventually stumbles upon some kind of unique teaching method, and the kids comes to like him (or her, occasionally).
Basically none of that happens in this movie. The kids like him already, because he’s a good teacher. He struggles with how ineffective the curriculum is. But he does so every year and the struggles with the kids aren’t new. Instead of the usual shit of saving the children, there are tough moral choices and a particularly bad failing on his part. Even at the end of the film, when it appears like he’s done a good job with most of his students, there are at least two students he hasn’t helped.
My biggest concern with the film is that Begaudeau wrote the film and the book it was based on. Very few people are truly honest with themselves. I wonder to what degree he is and I worry this film could be a little self-aggrandizing. (Like, did he do something much worse in real life and insulting his students is how he chooses to view it?)
But that’s a concern you can totally ignore if you know nothing of how the movie was made. And, without that concern, this may be the best “How can I reach these kids?!?!” movie ever made.