Etre Et Avoir [VHS]
Charting the events within a small single-class village school over the course of one academic year, Etre et Avoir takes a warm and serene look at primary education in the French heartlands. A dozen youngsters, aged 4-10, are brought together in a rural classroom and taught every subject by a single teacher. A master of quiet authority, he patiently navigates the children towards adolescence, cooling down their arguments and listening to their problems with extraordinary dedication. Soon, however, he will have to say goodbye to those older students, who are now ready to go onto the state school in the local town.
Winner of a host of international awards, Etre et Avoir is a unique meeting of a director of remarkable talent and a man whose assured approach to teaching will have an impact, not only upon the lucky few children who could share his wisdom, but upon anyone he sees this extraordinary and heart-warming film.
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 --This text refers to the DVD edition.See all Product description
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The continuous comparison between the changing seasons and the development of the school children is beautiful and completely unclichéd.
The school children, both in the school and at home are magical. Some have cast doubt over the authenticity of the scenes where parents work with their children. Whether these scenes are truly real or not- the actions in the classroom are clearly pure and untouched by the director.
This is essentially a documentary, but there are so many fascinating switches between different scenes and the changes of the main subject matter. We look at the life of young school children, then the older children, then the older children who will soon leave for secondary school. We see pupil interaction with their peers and their wonderful teacher- who we then learn even more about.
Basically- completely absorbing. Plus the French is so simple in much of the film, that people with a relatively sound knowledge can understand it quite easily without captions- which is quite a confidence boost for learners!
Photography/visual style: 6/10
Whatever caught my attention and caused me to add Etre et Avoir to my watch list, I had pretty much forgotten it by the time I came to watch this film, so I had very little expectation beyond an impression of quaint Frenchness. And indeed I got that; the documentary is filmed almost entirely within the classroom of a tiny rural French school. We get to know the kids and teacher by watching them learn, often frustratingly slowly, although that only makes it more satisfying when the light of comprehension dawns in their little eyes.
If there is one thing missing from the film, it is context. I had to read the DVD sleeve notes to find out that the mode of education we see here is considered old-fashioned and under threat. It was only once I knew this that I was able to understand that the message of the film is pro-tradition in the face of cold modernity. I had access to that information, it is true, but truly outstanding documentaries are able to insert the necessary context unobtrusively.
There is a universality here, in that similar situations can be found in any country large enough to have variations in population density. Incidentally, the title is pretty clever, evoking French grammar lessons as well as the huge concepts of being and having. I don't think I really *learned* anything from the film though, as I would normally expect to from a documentary.
I think viewers will get out of Etre et Avoir what they bring in. If the idea of a feature length documentary set entirely in a French classroom sounds charming and heart-warming, you will be charmed and your heart warmed. If it sounds boring, you will be bored.
For my full review, see my independent film review weblog on Blogspot, Cinema Inferno.
It's secret is in the waiting. This has not just taken a year to make it has taken hours of editing. The children are unaware of the camera and it is the eccentricity of youth that propels its entertainment value across the language/culture diivde. So we see a four year old artfully plea for his playtime to be restored and the collective fear felt by the school as it visits the secondary college, that some of the class will be attending the following year.
All life is here; birth, death, laughter tears, not least from the very accomplished teacher as he says goodbye to his charges at the end of the academic year.
There is nothing more moving than the truth and this is a convincing testament, for this reviewer anyway, of why a career working with children has so many benefits beyond the salary cheque.
For this reason it is an inspiration.
The extras are negligible unless you are obsessive about technical details.
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