I didn’t know what I was getting myself in for when DC and Macca suggested we go and see this film one night after work. I was not even aware that it was a documentary! All I knew was that it was French – my most recent experience of French cinema had been positive (The Triplets of Belleville) – so I thought ‘why not?’
To Be and to Have slowly introduces us to a country schoolteacher, Georges Lopez, and his class of children of varying ages, in their single room classroom. Their journey through the remainder of that school year forms the basis of the film, with some new kids starting in their first year, and some others going on to high school. The relationship between teacher and student is explored at length, through a variety of interactions between Lopez and several students.
It is these interactions that show Lopez to be the dedicated teacher that he is, and allow us to develop great respect for him and his job. His discussions with JoJo (surely the most amusing child in the class, destined for roles in second rate French sitcoms) and the other students cover respect, confidence, self image, goals and career. Had you not known it was a documentary, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a propaganda film for a Teacher’s Union, this man displays such an holistic approach.
There are moments of humour, and some of cringing awkwardness – the rural French family helping their son with his times-tables is both hilarious and scary… ‘how many is six times two slaps over the head?’ is surely one of the most revealing lines uttered. There are also moments of great poignancy, the final farewells made with some of his students leaving forever the most striking.
This is an uplifting insight into one man and his extended family of children, and a refreshing piece of cinema.Rating: