‘Entre les murs’: studying French politics through cinema

This post is part of a series on outreach projects undertaken by ASMCF members and how their research can be of use to teachers.


Martin O’Shaughnessy has taken his work out to a range of non-University audiences. He has introduced films and led post-screening discussions in cities such as London, Nottingham, Birmingham and Bristol. He has presented his work to Anglo-French societies in Nottingham and Derby and has run a good number of day-schools on different aspects of French film with the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham. He is the creator of the teaching pack for La Grande Illusion for Film Education, a ressource helping teachers of 15-19 year olds to discuss the First World War, but also social identity and social values, religion, the use of music and the portrayal of war in films.


He has also published as series of blog posts on French cinema and politics which will be of particular interest to teachers preparing their students for Advanced Highers or A-Level examinations.


Teachers working on Entre les murs (released in the UK as The Class) will find several posts on the film, from a helpful introduction to the concept of (and debates around) “Republican education” to more in-depth analysis of how the film problematises “Republican schooling”, including detailed study of four scenes. Prof. O’Shaughnessy’s work provides additional political and social context to the film and the debates surrounding it, as well as practical resources which can be used in class. Several posts from the website La France et la Crise can also be used as additional reading materials or discussion prompts on contemporary French society and its representation. For instance, Boundary problems: Beur/banlieue/political film in the context of contemporary French Cinemaexplores how different questions are asked of films based on whether they are categorised as “mainstream political cinema” or “Beur/banlieue cinema” and the importance of questioning canonical versions of history, taking the example of Abdellatif Kechiche’s 2007 La Graine et le Mulet (released in the UK as Couscous) and Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche’s 2008 Dernier Maquis. The analysis of the two films bridges different A-Level units, from le monde du travail to notions of heritage, cultural production and immigration. While not part of the set of films recommended by exam boards, they could be screened as part of an end-of-term project or after-school club, enabling a revision of themes and vocabulary across the year.


While these particular blog posts are geared towards teaching the films in higher education, they could easily be adapted or integrated into A Level or (Higher) Advanced schemes of work. In addition to providing additional information for teachers, the theoretical approaches discussed on the blog could be applied to a different film or novel, and the blog posts can of course be given to students as a “think piece” to facilitate discussions. Higher Advanced students might find inspiration for their independent project in the broad range of topics displayed on La France et la Crise, from the idea of more women CEOs as a response to the crisis, to how the social and economic consequences of 2008 were dealt with through BDs (comics/graphic novels). By showcasing how academic theory can be applied to question cinematic production and the portrayal of contemporary realities, as well as how academics respond to each other’s work, they also provide an example of the type of analysis which students can expect to conduct if studying French at university.

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