Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

To Be and to Have

(Être et avoir, France, 2002)

This is about as basic a documentary as you can get. And, to tell the truth, it took me a while to get into it. Without narration, we see the arrival of children at a one-room schoolhouse in rural France. There are big kids and little kids, ages 4 to 11, and one teacher, Georges Lopez. He has been at this for 30 years. He is very, very good with these children. He seems to be surrounded by a warm aura of concern and love, and it’s not fake. We see about a year, during which he imparts the most basic skills of the three Rs. But he’s much more than simply a teacher. The father of one pupil is ill, and he gently questions him about it as the boy cries. Another girl is so deeply withdrawn that I don’t think she says more than “oui” and “non” for the entire movie. She’s moving on to middle school and Lopez has told the teachers there that she may need some special help, and discussing this with her, he fears he may have stigmatized her. We don’t know, because even he, with his incredibly gentle manner, is unable to get her to express her fears. I fear for her in a normal school environment. This is not a film for everyone, even everyone who likes documentaries, but it rewards patience.