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To Be And To Have


To Be And To Have


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When does teaching end and learning begin? Or does such a moment even exist? Quietly, and perhaps by accident, the Nicolas Philibert-directed documentary To Be And To Have reveals the learning process as an everyday mystery, less a steady march from ignorance to enlightenment than a slow absorption of knowledge. Spending one year in a single-class school in provincial France, Philibert watches through his cameras as 13 children, ranging in age from soon-to-be middle-schoolers to a 3-year-old, receive instruction from teacher Georges Lopez. It sounds like an impossible arrangement, a system best confined to Old West prairie towns, and at first, it looks it, too. How can one man keep kindergarteners on task with their coloring projects and teach multiplication tables to the older ones? If nothing else, the film serves as a testament to Lopez's skills. Whether mediating in a fight between a bully and his prey or leading a sledding outing, Lopez never surrenders the air of control, and he maintains his authority with a firm-but-kind paternal approach. It takes time to develop the kind of relationship Lopez has with his charges; for most, he will be the face of school throughout their childhood. Philibert respects that by taking time himself. An early shot of two turtles crawling through the classroom establishes the film's deliberate pace, and To Be And To Have benefits from the care. As seasons change behind them, the documentary's subjects grow up, too, learning, maturing, and inevitably moving on and leaving Lopez behind. Even this won't last, however. In the film's most poignant moment, Lopez attempts to tell his students that he plans to retire in the near future, and it's the one fact that he seems unable to make them comprehend. They might not understand, or fully appreciate, what he's done for them, but they know he's left them different than they were before.