Être et avoir, (To Be and to Have)

Être et avoir, (To Be and to Have), 2002, directed by Nicolas Philibert. French with English subtitles. This award-winning documentary captures a year at a rural one-room school in France with a dozen students ranging in age from 4 to 11 and their one teacher, Mr. Lopez, the year before he is set to retire. The film covers the school season so the film begins in snow and ends in sunshine. This quiet film is first-rate and deserving of its awards.

Philibert took care in selecting this particular school out of about 150 similar rural one-room schools. The best thing this director does though is stay out of the way.

I thought it would be interesting, I found it captivating.
I thought it would be good to see, once. I will probably watch it again some day.

Mr. Lopez educates with patience, kindness, honesty, compassion and a wise discipline. He listens. Education is not separate from a child’s family, situation, interests, difficulties, fears, the confusing time of growing up and feeling distant, different and not knowing why. Education is not separate from play or sustenance or worrying about your father who has cancer. The older children watch and learn and end up carrying on their relationships with the younger children in the same vein. He deals with fighting, learning blocks, troubles at home in much the same quiet, steady voice of understanding. You regret, as do the students that he is retiring. You understand why it was this school, this teacher, these students that the director chose.

As a side note, we learned about this movie while watching Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film: An Odyssey a remarkable 15-episode documentary about the history of film.

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