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Charmingly French, but a bit short on context
on 7 June 2017
Version I saw: LoveFilm Bluray, subtitled
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.