To Be and To Have

(Etre et Avoir)


A small one-room school in rural France is the setting for Nicolas Philibert's (Qui Sait?, Every Little Thing) To Be and To Have, a quiet but strong documentary. Philibert filmed Georges Lopez, the teacher, and his young class over the course of a year. There is not plot except for watching Lopez interact with the students, and aside from one short scene, Philibert has no interaction with Lopez. So why is To Be and To Have such a powerful film? It is because of Lopez. After watching the film, it is hard not to want Lopez as a teacher.

He has an incredibly difficult job. In one classroom, he has students that range in age from four to ten. Over the course of the day, he must somehow juggle all these students and their various needs. He is patient, and stern, but never harsh. It is clear that Lopez has an incredible amount of dedication to his job, and his love for the children comes out in the way he gently guides them. Whether he is teaching his students the difference between the masculine and feminine version of the word "friend" or telling them which number comes after 6, he never raises his voice and always continues no matter how exasperating the children become. Lopez also educates the children on what is right and wrong. He calmly explains to the older children why it is wrong to fight and the importance of taking turns. And these children respect him.

Philibert plays the cute card often, choosing to focus more on the younger children. Unlike most other movies, this does not become too annoying. Yes, Philibert wants everybody to go "aww" collectively, but he is not trying to cover up some other deficiency in the film. The difference between the kids here and in other movies is that they are genuine. They are not acting, and sometimes they even smile at the camera when they think they do something clever.

After a while it is clear that absolutely nothing is going to happen. And in this specific case, it is perfectly fine. There is a quiet, calming sensibility about the film, and while there is little going on, it is hard to not pay attention. Philibert also lets the camera go into the children's houses every once in a while, to see how they interact with their families. One of the more hilarious segments of the film has an entire family trying to do a math problem. It is the gentle warmth and charm of this scene and many others like it that make To Be and To Have the good film it is.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 55 minutes, French with English subtitles, Not Rated but contains nothing of harm, a G.

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