Laurent Cantet has been called the French Ken Loach mainly because of his naturalistic interpretation of a story and his use of unknown actors and actresses. His main claim to fame was the Cannes Palme d’Or winner of 2008 The Class. This low budget documentary style film is set in a tough school in an unfashionable area of Paris. Francois Marin sees his authority as a teacher constantly challenged by his class of working-class ethnically mixed 13 to 15 year olds. During one of the daily battle of wits, he loses control and calls two of the female students ‘skanks’ that in turn provokes a very serious incident. Francois Begaudeau is a former schoolteacher on whose book the film is freely based, co-scriptwriter and lead actor, he also plays the teacher Francois Marin. A marvellous non-professional cast of young actors; identified by their own names, worked mainly without a formal script. This powerful and moving film consists mainly of dialogue between teacher and students and can at times make the viewing experience quite exhausting. Movie Ramble described this movie as ‘a must see for all intelligent film fans’ .
Similar to his depiction of sex tourism in Haiti Heading South in 2005, the French directors latest release is in the English language. Foxfire confessions of a girl gang (2012) is an overtly political movie with a socialist nuance that touches on racism and class resentment. Foxfire is a secret society of schoolgirls based in Upstate New York who set them selves up as a co-operative to fight the inequality accorded their sex. The abuse they feel is both sexual and social, these victims of the ‘American Dream’ feel better able to tackle this struggle as a group rather than as individuals. And what starts out as small acts of vandalism, rebellion and revenge escalate into more complex actions culminating in a shocking deed that will tear their individual lives apart. Also there is a strong sense of latent homoeroticism.
Based on a 1993 novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates it has already been the subject of a feature film in 1996 simple called Foxfire and starred Angelina Jolie but Cantet and Robin Campillo’s adaptation is more faithful to the book sticking with its location in Upstate New York in the 1950’s rather than Pacific Northwest in the 1990’s also in the earlier film most of the Foxfire members come from comfortable suburban families; in the novel and the 2012 movie, they are working class girls from the "wrong side of the tracks" whose families suffer from domestic problems such as child abuse and alcoholism. The biggest difference is that Oates book is a fragmented version of the story but the film presents it in a linear form.
Cantet admits in an interview of receiving the book and immediately falling in love with the story and the characters, especially Legs who is the main force behind the group with her ideas on the way that life should be lived and her belief in community living. Shoot on hand held cameras on location in Canada, the 1950’s are accurately reconstructed but evoking a modern style of acting and language, with the director giving his actors a naturalistic approach and freedom of movement in the roles they play. The largely non-professional cast is exceptionally good bringing energy to the characters with Raven Adamson as Legs, Maddy, who memories the book is based upon and who tells the story in voice over, is played by Katie Coseni, with Claire Mazerolle playing female tough guy Goldie and boy magnet Rita is portrayed by Madeliene Bisson. The movie brings to mind the camaraderie of The Bling Ring (2013) and the characters from 1975’s Switchblade Sisters. Certainly an interesting interpretation of Oates book but the direction lacks a certain amount of tension; also the final actions of the group are a wee bit of a cop out.