Nicolas Philibert's mighty documentary about a single-class school in central France is as simple, fundamental and carefully constructed as a child's first lesson. Filmed with noticeable care, Etre et Avoir
follows teacher Georges Lopez as he conducts his students (aged four to 12) through a year of primary-school studies, instructing them with the same unwavering patience whether they're taking dictation or sledging through the wilds. Philibert's technique--natural lighting, wide-angled close-ups and a compressed audio track that picks out a chorus of whispering--reconnects us to a child's view of the classroom, an enchanted world of table-top discoveries and minor miracles in which the teacher is often just a distant voice and a pair of demonstrating hands. To the cynical eye, there might be a touch of la France profonde in the film's admiration for Lopez and his apple-cheeked pupils--while the school's rural setting, with its stately agricultural rhythms, is a far cry from the troubled Parisian suburbs of 2008's The Class
. Nonetheless, Philibert lays social politics aside to show young minds trying their teeth on life's larger concepts--whether it's Marie, a well-behaved four-year-old, politely retreating from a scary discussion about ghosts, or Jojo, her wide-eyed classmate, struggling to name the farthest number that can be counted. Impressively, these kids are never obviously aware of the cameras, proving the film-maker's maxim that you have to first withdraw in order to get up close. --Leo Batchelor
Award-winning documentary charting the events within a small single-class village primary school in the Auvergne region of France over the course of one academic year. A dozen children aged 4-10 are brought together each day in a rural classroom and taught all their subjects by a single teacher, Monsieur Georges Lopez. A master of quiet authority, he patiently navigates the children towards adolesence, cooling down their arguments and listening to their problems, while trying to balance the varying needs of the disparate age groups for whom he must provide.