To Be and to Have

"Excellent"

To Be and to Have Review


Teaching is possibly the most undervalued and thankless of professions. You get snotty kids that don't see the point of homework and jaded instructors who've seen their considerable efforts go to waste time and again. Every once in a while you'll hear news of a gem of a relationship in the classroom. Whether we make a big deal out of these stories because they are rare, or to redeem ourselves from the lack of attention we usually give to the worthy cause, is unclear. But the next thing you know, a predictable Dangerous Minds or Stand and Deliver is spit into theaters to reacquaint us with the idea that education can be a mutually beneficial experience for all involved.

To Be and to Have succeeds in warming the heart where these dramas might not, due to the sparer style of documentary. Though the focus is a special teacher in rural France, you come to appreciate his strength of character and goodness with children through simply watching him with students. There is exactly one scene in which the subject is alone and talking directly to the camera. Not only does he seem genuinely uncomfortable being the center of attention, but this time is used more to find out about his background - which you're curious about anyway by that point - than to place him on some pedestal.

But on a pedestal he belongs, and the director puts him there through little effort and honest capturing of nurturing in motion. It appears as if the filmmakers shot footage for a year and cut out some choice moments, but the segments feel randomly picked and not manipulative of any specific moralistic chords. At no time do the children or teacher act up for the camera, though they certainly know it's there. From reward to punishment, from building trust to nudging the kids forward, To Be is a beautiful example of the school environment we all hope for.

To Be also articulates other ideas not often included in films. There is a pleasant and subtle suggestion of positive influence from their time in the school environment seeping into family life as you see some of the children at home with their working-class farming folks. It lacks any hint of placing importance of work over school, or any pressure that without the children laboring the community will fail. The kids simply do both, and happily enough within a supportive structure, which is refreshing to see after so many documentaries that seem obsessed with prejudices leftover from the Industrial Revolution that children should never work.

Though To Be and to Have might feel lengthy, as watching incessant scenes of people doing nothing but talk can, it's also a moving journey through a year in the lives of two different age groups connecting and caring for one another. It reminds you of that special role model who encouraged you to read, or serves as a prime example of the individualized attention children deserve when they are trying to learn. Best of all, it's a perfect show of respect to just one of those underrated professionals who deserve but rarely receive it.

Reviewed at the 2002 New York Film Festival. Aka Être et avoir.

Finally available on DVD, the film includes an interview with director Nicholas Philbert plus outtakes of the children reciting poetry. Highly recommended.



To Be and to Have

Facts and Figures

Run time: 104 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 28th August 2002

Box Office USA: $0.5M

Budget: $1000 thousand

Distributed by: New Yorker Films

Production compaines: Les Films d'Ici, Gimages 204

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Fresh: 57 Rotten: 2

IMDB: 7.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Nicholas Philibert

Producer:

Starring: Olivier as Olivier, Guillaume as Guillaume, Johan as Jojo, Jonathan as Jonathan, as Laura, Létitia as Laeticia, Alizé as Alizé, Nathalie as Nathalie, Johann as Johann, Marie-Elizabeth as Marie, Jessie as Jessie, Axel as Axel, Julien as Julien, Georges Lopez as Himself

Also starring:

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