A documentary film which follows a year in the life of a French schoolteacher who runs, and lives above, a small rural school in the Auvergne. This is rugged, beautiful countryside - good farming country if you are prepared to work and recognise that the weather will rarely be your friend. Shot almost entirely within the confines of the school, we nevertheless understand that farming is a dawn till dusk, 365 day a year business and that the children will be working on the farm before they venture to school for the first time ... and every day after they return from it. Children grow up fast in the country.
This is fly-on-the-wall stuff, a chronicle of the lives of Georges Lopez and his dozen pupils. It is shot with such grace, it is shot so unobtrusively, it makes the vast, fashionable bulk of reality television look like reprehensible trash. The people in this film are not posing and preening themselves for the camera. What we get, instead, is honesty and humanity.
We watch the kids having fights, struggling to grasp concepts, sometimes bored, sometimes excited, playing and working, just being natural. George Lopez comes across as a man who is passionate about his work - he can be sternly assertive at times, but his approach is based around rational discourse, about explaining and listening to explanation, about encouraging the children to think and not simply to behave.
We learn little about Monsieur Lopez - the son of a Spanish immigrant labourer who rose in station by becoming a teacher, he has been in the profession for some thirty years, has occupied his present position for twenty ... and is about to retire. We watch the older children being introduced to the new, bigger school they will attend after the summer, we watch the arrival of the new intake of tiny ones, but we do not know where M.Lopez will go. Will he be allowed to stay on in his rooms above the school? Will he feel he has to move?
As much as anything, this is a film about the nature of rites de passage, about process. We all go through changes in our lives, all have to face those moments when we enter a new school for the first time. It's a process which continues from birth to death, it's a process which can be made so much easier if there is rational explanation and discussion to parallel the emotion and salve the fear.
In an era where it is so difficult, as a male, to be allowed to relate to children without eyebrows being raised, this is an evocative expression of caring and generosity of spirit. It is a plea for patience, for encouragement, for listening to others, for motivating others and helping them learn, for tolerance, for sharing. A beautiful, surprising film which will spin you deep into its web of charm and to which you can return again and again.