The Class is a story of life in a French middle school classroom, a self-contained community of 25 students and their teacher, François. All of the adolescent students, teachers and staff were real and authentic, not fabricated or professional actors. The chosen school (Françoise Dolto Junior High in Paris’ 20th arrondissement) was specifically selected for the socio-economic mix and racial blend of the student body. Director Laurent Cantet wanted to show what’s really happening in a class, “so people can look at this little microcosm which describes all the issues facing our society.” Cantet felt that non-professional actors and people playing themselves brought the film more authenticity.

The film was mostly shot during Wednesday after-school improv workshops (long, intense days), depicting life in the classroom, almost in documentary style. Cantet wished to “capture the energy” of each scene and used three cameras: one focused on the teacher, one on the student featured and one capturing random background events, such as a student daydreaming or sleeping. François, as the idealistic teacher, strives to improve and enrich the lives and minds of inner city students. The film shows the trials and tribulations of teaching middle school – how teachers and students make mistakes even when they try their best. Director Cantet states, “One of my convictions is that you can make a good actor out of anyone, if you listen to what they say and develop a great trust.”

The Class shows that diversity and integration in schools is not a problem, but a richness: Children in multi-cultural settings are much more open and tolerant and willing to confront situations, working together as a team. The one message Cantet hopes audiences will take from the film is “how complex the school system is throughout the world; how complex to teach, to learn, to survive.”

The Class releases in select theaters Dec. 19.