Nicolas Philibert observes life inside a one-room schoolhouse in northern France in his documentary To Be and to Have, one of the best films of the year. This fly-on-the-wall experiment will especially appeal to those with fond memories of elementary school or anyone who finds the innocence of small children endearing. A man leaving the film’s New York Film Festival press screening observed that he didn’t realize he was watching a documentary until the mid-way point; indeed, only once does Philibert directly address one of his subjects, and his establishing shots (pet turtles running loose inside a classroom, snowy elm trees swaying in the wind) are so ethereal they evoke something out of great fiction. Georges Lopez is father figure to a group of small children and young teenagers who share his classroom, and via the film’s rhetorical mood-breaker, he reveals the origins of his family, his undying affection for his work, and the children he helps shepherd into adulthood. Every child has a shtick: JoJo gets his hands dirty, Alizé tries to use the copying machine, Julien prefers “pal” to “friend,” and Létitia can’t walk fast enough despite the falling rain. Lopez treats his pupils with the gentleness and grace their parent’s lack. When he announces his imminent retirement, the horror and confusion on the children’s faces is devastating. It’s not until they leave the classroom that this great man allows himself to shed a tear. Like Wiseman, Philibert allows the subject matter to speak for itself, though Wiseman has never made a film that risked this kind of warmth.
- New Yorker Films
- 104 min
- Nicolas Philibert
- Georges Lopez
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