April 7, 2005

To Be and to Have (2002)
Grade: 58/100

Director: Nicolas Philibert
Stars: Georges Lopez, Julien, Olivier, and all the other schoolchildren

What it's about. A slow-paced, thoughtful documentary about a small rural French schoolhouse that has students from toddlers to pre-teenagers, and only one teacher, Georges Lopez.

How others will see it. Those who favor car chases and hot looking blondes need not apply. The unblinking camera is not in a hurry. The little kids are adorable, and the older kids seem a bit troubled, as if the world they are about to be cast into (middle school) might not be better than the smaller, peaceful, and familiar world of the single teacher schoolhouse.

If children interest you, particularly their education and social adaptation, then this film is for you. Psychiatrists, sociologists, and teachers, will find the documentary fascinating.

How I felt about it. Rural parts of the U.S. have single teacher schools, I'm sure, with pupils of all young ages. The characteristics must be similar in many ways, especially the inevitable bonding between the students and their teacher, who sees them day after day for several years, until hints of their adult personalities become apparent.

Thus, it's not surprising that the teacher is not merely an instructor, but a parental figure as well. He must play the role of conselor, whether kids misbehave or are left out.

Clearly, Georges is an ideal teacher. He has decades of experience, he's never wanted another occupation, and gives no thought to the fact that some stock brockerage money managers make twenty times his salary. His patience is endless, his sense of fairness is uncorruptible, and his ability to verbally explain his lessons and conclusions is nearly inspirational.

But he's not perfect. Nathalie is painfully shy, but his discussion with her about her inward nature never dwells upon her sense of self worth. Instead, the focus is on her outward behavior. He does better with the older boys. After a minor fight, he correctly surmises that an attempt at a pecking order has taken place. He is careful to gently admonish both boys, for different but valid reasons, and encourages co-operation.

It's all very interesting, and after seeing the film, one understands how life must be at the quaint single teacher French schoolhouse. Whether this understanding will extend to how to get through our lives more agreeably, is up to the individual viewer.