TO BE AND TO HAVE
Many small towns in France operate so-called "single classes" in which one teacher takes all the children through from pre-school to Year 5. In a small village in Auvergne, George Lopez is in charge of a dozen children aged 3 to 12. Some teachers have volunteered for this fate ... others have ended up there by chance.
Review by Louise Keller:
It's so simple, yet so powerful - this charming glimpse of life in a rural classroom, when we see first hand the dramas of every day life. Nicholas Philibert takes a fly-on-the-wall approach as we enter the world of teacher and student. Georges Lopez is not only the teacher, but also policeman, referee, counsellor and friend to a small group of children, learning the three 'r's in a rural classroom in France.
We become a part of life as the school bus collects its passengers and makes its way down the narrow, slippery snow-lined road through the many fir-trees and weather-affected pastures. 'Is it morning or afternoon?' asks Jojo, a curious four year old, whose plaintive and expressive features dominate much of this entertaining and moving documentary. Lopez is the epitome of patience, as he coaxes his young students through the rigours and disciplines of learning. Concentration is foremost, as the youngsters chew their pencils, deliberate, and come out with the most amusing, yet natural responses. Noses are picked, students quarrel, paint is scrubbed from grubby hands and faces. New words and numbers are learned, courtesies are installed and new faces are greeted.
But it's not all about serious schoolwork. Much of the learning is about life and dealing with each other. There's the fun activity of making pancakes, and half the fun is making sure the cracked egg lands in the bowl. Tears may fall when the egg misses, or when Olivier and Julien get a talking to, for fighting with each other. Problem solving, after all, is an important part of everyday living. There's a poignant moment when Lopez asks Olivier about his father, who is recovering from an operation. 'Sickness is part of life,' Lopez says simply and matter-of-factly.
We get a further insight as we meet the children in their home environment, when parents offer their support for the homework.
The seasons change, and the garden, like the children, need tending. Summer classes are held under shady trees, and there are picnics and outings. As the year draws to a close, there's an excursion to the local high school, where two of the students will be enrolling.
After 35 years of nurturing, Lopez is nearing retirement, and it is evident that he is going to miss his wards. After all, this has been his life. And like the seasons, there's an end to the school year, and it's soon time to say 'bonne vacances' to all. There's a big lump in our throat as we say goodbye to this endearing chapter of innocence.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Patience has many rewards; making this film and experiencing it are two of them. Made with the uncomplicated agenda of wanting to immerse us in the life of a tiny class in a tiny school in a tiny French village, To Be and To Have is unique in both style and substance. There is no victim to pity nor a system to hate; there is no baddie to boo or a goodie to root for; there are no racial/ethnic issues, just individuals.
The tension builds on the interactions and unique personalities that we discover. From teacher to pupils, the people we observe are unique human beings. The film's biggest impact comes with the gentle probe into two highly sensitive children, a boy and a girl, who weep with inner turmoil as they face their daily troubles in just being part of the human race. The teacher's patience is a soothing balm, but the problems, we sense, are not soluble by others.
Filmmaker Nicholas Philibert surprises us at every turn, even at the start, when he shows us a snow storm for no apparent reason. It doesn't lead to a point he wants to make, other than to show the environment. Later, we see cows herded, milked, fed and cleaned. And fields ploughed, or wheat weaving in the wind. This is nature in rural France, and nature takes its course, if you want to start reading his imagery. Profoundly simple, if you'll excuse the oxymoron, the film builds up a store of personal knowledge by minute particles, until we realise we have got to know many of these children and their teacher just enough to be sad to leave.
Email this article
TO BE AND TO HAVE (G)
Ętre et avoir
CAST: Documentary with Alizé, Axel, Guillaume, Jessie, Johann, JoJo, Julien
PRODUCER: Gilles Sandoz
DIRECTOR: Nicolas Philibert
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Laurent Didier, Katell Djian, Hugues Gemignani, Nicolas Philibert
EDITOR: Nicolas Philibert
MUSIC: Philippe Hersant
PRODUCTION DESIGN: N/a
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney, Melbourne: April 29, 2004; Perth, Brisbane: June 17, 2004; Adelaide: July 1, 2004; ACT: August 5, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: September 29, 2004