To Be And To Have
France 2002, 104 min
An ordinary place with ordinary children who are learning how to live ordinary lives. They grow up, and the teacher, who uses ordinary – some would say conservative – teaching methods in dictation and mathematics, helps to prepare them for entering the world outside the four protecting walls of the school in Auvergne, France.
Nothing special. Yet this film is a unique masterpiece from an exceptional director. I will not refrain from using superlatives, not at all. Why should I? I have just seen a film that brought tears to my eyes and contains sequences I will never forget. Not because it depicts the world as a cruel place full of conflicts and death, but because this filmmaker is capable of conveying that ’life is beautiful’ and that the ordinary is extraordinary. This film contains magic moments caught by an observational camera that has been there for a long time. It maintains a constant, respectful and warm distance to the small children, and there is time for reflection when Philibert pauses to take us outside to the surrounding landscape. In spring and winter. There are humorous scenes, like when the entire family of an elder pupil try to help him to do his math homework. There are poetic scenes like when a younger pupil has to wash his hands and discovers a beehive in the corridor. There are intense scenes like when the teacher consoles a pupil whose father is seriously ill. Or when the teacher talks two opponents out of a minor verbal or physical conflict on several occasions.
They enter the classroom and they leave again. A school year season has passed, and Jojo, Létitia, Jessie, Olivier, Lucien and the others are going on holiday, while the teacher, Monsieur Lopez, stands alone in the door touched by saying goodbye. Some of them will not return, as they will be attending middle school, and Monsieur Lopez himself is about to retire. But he stays in the village and his children will return to ask for advice and consolation. The work of a village teacher never stops. What a person: merci, Monsieur Lopez! What a poetic hymn to children and the Ordinary: merci, Monsieur Philibert!