Francois Begaudeau could have been any half-decent teacher, describing his role in the classroom: "I'm not the star, I'm just the main character," he said.
But Begaudeau (below) had just been awarded the Palme d'Or at Cannes for reprising his real-life experiences in an inner-city school for the big screen. The Class (Entre les murs) is no Dead Poets' Society, as he was anxious to point out. The 14- and 15-year-olds that played his pupils were recruited from Francoise Dolto, a tough school on the outskirts of Paris.
Their characters' gritty stories are not far removed from the teenagers' real lives: many are immigrants from as far afield as Mali, Morocco, China and the French Caribbean. Some are without papers. Their relationship with the authorities, their school and their teacher is tense, at best. While they were shooting the film, some of their schoolmates were rioting on the streets of Paris.
Begaudeau said: "It would be good for people who claim the ability to judge youth in a few aphorisms to learn something new. It's a generation shaped by rap. Rap is about talking back and showing off in a way that's quite aware it's showing off."
Jean-Claude Defaux, head of Francoise Dolto, said he was pleased with his pupils' success. "They are very good in the film, but they are first and foremost great teenagers - and some have exams to pass."