Reviewer's Rating 5 out of 5   User Rating 4 out of 5
Etre et Avoir (To Be and to Have) (2003)

One of this years's finest releases turns out to be this fly-on-the-wall documentary from Nicolas Philibert, about a single-class French village school, which is situated in a remote Auvergne farming community.

The dozen-or-so pupils - boys and girls whose ages range from four to ten - are all taught by the same remarkably dedicated and caring teacher, Georges Lopez, himself now approaching retirement.

Whilst there are lessons in the basics of reading, writing, and mathematics, there are also more playful activities - such as baking pancakes, tobogganing in the snow, and picnicking in the summer fields.

Lopez regards it as his duty to try and prepare his charges for the adult world beyond the cosy classroom. Thus they learn how to get along peacefully with one another - verbal and physical disputes are settled by reasoned discussion, not through physical chastisement - and they are encouraged to express their fears and worries.

Lopez's enlightened philosophy is encapsulated in a conversation with a mother worried about her daughter's reticence, calmly stressing that he wants the child "to develop and be happy".

Other filmmakers might have chosen hand-held digital video for this project, which was shot over a six-month period. Philibert, however, favours the expressive qualities of traditional celluloid. Photographing in long, composed takes, he shows a fine eye for seasonally-changing landscapes which convey a rich sense of place and time.

The director's patient approach pays real dividends, in the way he observes the kids (who seem genuinely un-selfconscious about the presence of the camera) at work and at play in such a beneficial environment.

One's left with a certain sense of sadness, though. Not just at Mr Lopez's eventual departure, but that his charges are unlikely to enjoy such personal attention in their secondary school lives.

In French with English subtitles.

End Credits

Director: Nicolas Philibert

Writer: Nicolas Philibert

Stars: Georges Lopez

Genre: Documentary, World Cinema

Length: 104 minutes

Cinema: 20 June 2003

Country: France

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