Cast: Georges Lopez, Alizé, Axel, Guillaume, Jessie, Johann
(Jojo), Julien, Laura, Létitia, Nathalie, Olivier
out of 5
It is virtually impossible to talk about To Be And To Have
and not sound like a candy-ass. Without recourse to words like “charming”
and “delightful,” the film would defy description. The
routine flogging of such terms on the “Today”show
or in Reader’s Digest has rendered them almost meaningless,
so it is a real pleasure when a movie like To Be And To Have
can allow one to appreciate just how cute French-speaking seven-year-olds
In much of rural France, children of primary-school age are still
educated together in one-room schoolhouses. To Be And To Have
is a French documentary about one such school. Located in the
Auvergne region, it is run by one Monsieur Georges Lopez,
who lives upstairs and seemingly exists only to teach these kids.
Throughout the film, the teacher demonstrates an infinite patience
with the children when they struggle to understand what he wants,
and a preternatural gift for knowing what these often inarticulate
youngsters are trying so hard to tell him. Lopez’s
talents have already made him a minor celebrity in Europe, where
To Be And To Have was a surprise hit. (In a move that definitely
will tarnish his image a bit, he has sued the filmmakers for a percentage
of the film’s profits.)
The care that Monsieur Lopez manifests for his students is both
moving and inspiring, but this film belongs to the children themselves.
Nathalie is smart but painfully shy, Olivier and Julien
cannot stop fighting, and Jojo doesn’t seem to understand
how to wash his hands. A typical school day finds each student,
in his or her own way, dealing as much with the process of growing
up as with grammar or math. The movie takes an unobtrusive
style that affords an intimate look at the joys and difficulties
that characterize the lives of these children.
As documentaries go, To Be And To Have is old-school. In
the decade since 1994’s Hoop Dreams challenged much
of the prevailing wisdom regarding the genre, documentarians have
primarily been interested in challenging the notion of the camera’s
objectivity. Many, like Michael Moore, have taken advantage
of this move in using juxtapositions of footage in order to make
a specific point. Others have used this development to challenge
the notion of truth itself, a trend which may have gone as far as
it can go in last year’s think Capturing The Friedmans.
Director Nicolas Philibert, however, will have none of that;
his ambition here is no more (and no less) than to show the viewer
what this classroom is really like. There is only one interview
in the film (with Lopez himself) and only a couple of scenes that
do not take place at the school. The film thus lacks a vantage point,
and does little to convey that what happens at this school is somehow
important or meaningful beyond the ways in which it affects the
participants. Those who do not find the children inherently interesting
may find the film interminable. To those people perhaps the only
appropriate rejoinder is, “What the hell is your problem?
Can’t you see how adorable these kids are? And they’re
French!” For everyone other than these misanthropes,
To Be And To Have is definitely worth seeing.
Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.
It’s worth a full-price ticket.
It’s worth a matinee ticket.
Wait for video rental.
Check out the video from the library, if you must.
While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...