To Be and to Have (2002)

Review #1,213

Director:  Nicolas Philibert
Plot:  A documentary portrait of a one-room school in rural France, where the students (ranging in age from 4 to 11) are educated by a single dedicated teacher.

Genre:  Documentary
Awards:  Won 1 European Film Award - Best Documentary.  Nom. for 1 BAFTA - Best Film not in the English Language.
Runtime:  104min
Rating:  PG
International Sales:  Les Films du Losange

Nicolas Philibert is one of the unsung heroes of French documentary filmmaking, having made such films as Louvre City (1990), In the Land of the Deaf (1992) and Nenette (2010).  His interests are varied, making films that straddle between nature, art and social issues.  This particular work, To Be and to Have, could be his defining piece. 

Centering on a group of students aged 4 to 11 at a small one-room school located in a rural part of France, the documentary champions the dedication and passion of a single teacher working there.  His name is Georges Lopez, and he has been teaching for two decades.  His methods are straightforward yet tailored specifically to each child.  And as you will see, his patience is unparalleled.  Remarkably calm yet insistent, he brings joy and meaning to the learning process, inspiring the kids... and us. 

As we watch To Be and to Have, we are not just viewers, but become students of life.  The documentary shows us why education is so essential to humanity – it could transform lives and the way we co-exist.  Imagine a world where all children grow up in a safe and nurturing environment, free from prejudice and injustice, we will truly become a species of compassion.   But of course, that's an impossible ideal when adults ru(i)n the world. 

Philibert’s camera keeps a slight distance from the subjects, but also inviting us to partake in Georges’ lessons.  The result is quite special because the documentary feels like an intimate drama, as if it was made like one.  Georges’ warm and kind personality also encourages us to be part of his space.

Comedy comes out of day-to-day learning, or for some, experimenting with words, numbers, shapes and patterns.  I don’t remember how I learnt when I was a toddler, but I’m pretty sure I was a comedian, making my parents or preschool teachers chuckle (and occasionally scolding me) because of my antics. 

I think that’s the value of To Be and To Have, not just its documentary value, but being valuable in ways that remind us of our shared humanity – we were raised once with love, and we shall raise others with love too.  This should be essential viewing for all educators and parents in the world. 

Verdict:  An emotionally tender and inspiring documentary that works like a narrative, reminding us that life is a learning journey unto itself.


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