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To Be and to Have

Susan Notes:

I just discovered a film made in 2002. To Be and to Have (in French with subtitles) is a magical, joyous film celebrating childhood and teaching. Set in a one-room schoolhouse in the rural farming district in the Auvergne region of central France, it focuses on the 13 students, ages 3 to 10, under the tetelage of Georges Lopez, who, at one poignant moment in the film, tells the children he will be retiring soon.

There's no narration in the film, no manufactured story line, and it is the largest grossing documentary film ever released in France. We see a young boy trying to figure what number comes after six, we see lessons on grammar, reading, penmanship, drawing, and making crepes.

A New York Magazine critic tagged it a "best film of year," describing it as a great humanist portrayal of the teaching profession." OZuz World Movie Review said, "Lopez's special gift and love for his profession always comes through whether talking about the imperfect tense or diffusing a fight stemming from an ongoing conflict between two of the oldest boys. . . . It was a privilege to be allowed into Mr. Lopez's classroom and see him work his magic with the children, and to watch as he inspires in them a belief in their worth." The Denver Post critic disagreed, saying, "At times, it feels as stultifying as watching paint dry, without the recompense of sniffing fumes." His clones write education editorials for that paper as well as the New York Times and the Washington Post.

All I can say is that watching this film was a joyous experience. . . with numerous laugh-out-loud moments as well as a couple of tears. It is charming, exuberant, and affirming throughout. At my house we never watch the "extras" that come with DVDs but we watched the long interview with the director that came with this one, not wanting our time in Saint-Etienne Sur Jason to end.

— Susan Ohanian


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