Between the walls, Palme d'or 2008: “This film was obvious” for Sean Penn

Laurent Cantet's film returns to France 5, shortly after the death of its director.

We learned of the death of Laurent Cantet on April 25. France.TV then announced the imminent programming of its most famous film, Between the wallshonored with the Palme d'Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, as well as his latest achievement, Arthur Rambo.

Already viewable for free online – and until the end of June – this acclaimed work will be rebroadcast this evening on France 5, while the 77th edition of the festival is in full swing.

For 128 minutes, the viewer is locked in a college. Fiction or documentary? We quickly stop asking ourselves the question and only see one thing: the daily reality of a college. A great lesson in cinema.

Between the walls is a full, dense film, which questions the world [critique]

It's a seamless film. Everything is magical: interpretation, writing, provocations, generosity… Entre les Murs has become obvious“, declared Sean Penn, president of the jury of the 61st Cannes Film Festival, after presenting the Palme d'Or to Laurent Cantet in 2008. Without headliners or professional actors, this “little” French film with a meager budget (3 million euros), selected at the last minute at Cannes, won the supreme award in front of the favorites, the first Palme d'Or obtained by France in twenty-two years and Under Satan's sun from Pialat!

Adapted from the bestselling book by François Bégaudeau, ex-French teacher, Between the walls talks about the work of a young teacher in a fourth grade class in a difficult Parisian middle school. The writer plays his own role. In front of him, twenty-five impulsive boys and girls aged 14-15. Rowdy classes, tough recess, class or discipline councils… Director Laurent Cantet opens the doors to a little-known universe, which acts as a resonance for the outside world and its political and social issues.

Professional amateurs
Just as he had recruited the ANPE workers from Human ressourcesLaurent Cantet went to collect his students from the Françoise Dolto college in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, an establishment which, according to him, provided a “diversity of geographical origins“, enough to support his project of showing”the complexity of a class like that, but also its richness“.

All the teenagers in the film are students at Dolto, all the teachers teach there, the parents are those of the students. If Cantet likes to learn from the experience of real people, he also asks non-professionals to do real acting work. Shortly after the start of the school year, he and François Bégaudeau opened theater workshops on Wednesday afternoons. It's about identifying salient personalities, potential players, finding avenues for dialogue… Around fifty fourth grade students and around ten teachers embark on the adventure. A novice teacher and actor, François, provocative and a bit sarcastic, as in his novel, stirs up the verbal joust, pushing the students to their limits. The casting was done by itself, the teenagers chose themselves, the most diligent are in the film. Over the course of funny and chaotic sessions, the class took shape, the teenagers composed their characters, the film was written on the spot. Teenagers have never been aware of a storyline.

Filmed like a tennis match
In July 2007, filming began. For five weeks, the twenty-five students find themselves within the walls of a real classroom. The space is confined, the spotlights burning. The schoolchildren are watched by three cameras, navigating between the rows, catching thoughts and attitudes on the fly.

The idea was to film the lessons like tennis matches, the kids never knew when they were being filmed, so they played hardspecifies Cantet. The way François led each scene from the inside, after we had discussed its ins and outs together, required a complicity that is rarely achieved between an actor and a director.“.

To go further, the 9 feature films by Laurent Cantet are available on VOD on Première Max, including the TV film The Bloodthirsty released in 1998 on Arte, as well as the sketch film 7 days in Havana of which Cantet produced a segment.


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