Régis Sauder’s touching 2011 documentary, Nous, Princesses de Clèves, which follows a group of Marseille high school students over the course of a year as they read La Fayette’s novel while preparing for the Baccalauréat exams, juxtaposes two distinct types of reading: a reading in which the students are able to see themselves in the characters of the novel and a more difficult classroom-based reading that seeks to instill in the students, through conventional pedagogical exercises such as the explication de texte, an appreciation for the literary art and importance of the text. This essay explores the tensions between these two literacies, which become manifest in the film, especially in scenes where the students, who so easily relate to the novel’s characters, struggle with the more formal analysis. In a second part, inspired by the writings of Priscilla Ferguson, the essay explores the sociological and pedagogical implications of what seems, in the film, the incompatibility of these distinct appropriations of the text, as it pertains to the students in the documentary and to US-based French programs built on the literary curricula developed by pedagogues such as Gustave Lanson in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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