At the Cannes Film Festival, you can enjoy more foreign cinema in a span of 72 hours than most people do all year. And watching that much foreign cinema in that short a time, you simultaneously recognize the seemingly contradictory ideas that while other nations and cultures have their own histories, concerns, traditions and values, it is also true that, as Depeche Mode remind us, people are people. Laurent Cantet's The Class, playing in competition this year, is a terrific example of that phenomenon in action.
Chronicling a year in the life of a junior high school class in a rougher section of Paris, there's something undeniably French about the film: the cultural challenges, the uneasy-yet-unescapable mix of cultures and races in the classroom, the plot's turn on a subtler point of formal French grammar. But at the same time, these kids and their teacher (Francois Begaudeau) are going through a series of challenges and opportunities that will be familiar to anyone who's ever gone to school: The tedium of work, the charged-yet-collegial relationship between student and teacher, the subdivisions in the halls.