By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Mar 10, 2009 at 4:53 PM

Don't mistake actor and writer François Bégaudeau's Oscar-nominated "The Class" (or "Entre les murs" in French) for "Head of the Class" or Mr. Kotter's cast of lovable TV misfits.

No, in this film of François Bégaudeau's book -- directed by Laurence Cantet -- in which the author stars as a version of himself, Mr. Marin -- is a hard-edged look at daily life in a French classroom that reflects the changing face of the country.

It seems easy to suspect, cultural differences aside, that Marin's class in Paris' 20th arrondissement bears more than a passing resemblance to urban classrooms across the United States, too.

Marin and his fellow teachers start the school year at a faculty meeting at which their cautious and guarded optimism is palpable. Their good-natured warnings to the new teachers seem only moderately tongue-in-cheek.

And when they again face their students -- played by a cast of amateurs -- it's easy to see why. Not only are the teachers faced with diverse classrooms full of 14- and 15-year-olds from a range of cultures and countries, many of the kids are struggling -- with discipline, with self control, with their own identities and, in some cases, with Mr. Marin's subject, the French language.

Marin initially appears to be able to handle the pressures pretty well. He manages to maintain control -- if barely at times -- and he can banter with the kids. But it's a slippery slope, as he is reminded, and it doesn't take much for things to sour.

When one student is insolent, he asks her to stay after class and wonders how their relationship - which the previous year was fine - soured. But neither he nor the student can answer.

Soon, the teachers are all clearly stressed out by the students and the ongoing discipline problems. The previous year 12 disciplinary hearings led to 12 explusions.

Two students attend a faculty meeting as class representatives and return to tell their classmates what the teachers said about them. This sparks a moment of weakness for Marin who makes a comment he immediately regrets.

That insult snowballs into a class disturbance that sets off a chain of events that leads to the explosion of an already volatile student. The faculty must debate how their disciplinary action may affect the home life of the kid.

Even if the movie didn't nab the Oscar for best foreign-language film, it did earn the coveted Palme d'Or at Cannes last year, so it's clear that "The Class" struck a chord with the hometown crowd.

And it's easy to see why. Despite lacking experience the kids are powerful characters on screen and so is Bégaudeau, who so deftly portrays so delicate a balance of confidence and lack of ease at the head of the class that one surmises that he's barely acting, if at all.

Thanks to the cast, the film's documentary-like starkness and its lack of artsiness, "The Class" is really a memorable film.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.