To Be and To Have is a charming documentary about a teacher and his 13 students [ages 3 - 11] in a primary school in the French countryside.
Directed [or assembled] by Nicolas Philbert the documentary follows various day to day happenings inside the classroom as well as some of the life that goes on outside in the surrounding farm country where it was shot.
Beside the fact that the kids are cute and say and do funny things the film is very effective for a couple of reasons. First is the way in which the filmmaker balances the lives of the kids both in the school and at home. And second because the teacher - George Lopez - is such a level-headed, soft spoken and caring teacher yet one who knows how to get the attention of the kids. He really holds the center of the film and it's easy to see why the kids like him so much.
At times the filmmakers seem to fall in love with the kids yet unlike the documentary Spellbound their charm is different because they are not all geniuses. And in some ways that is what is most effective about the film.
Overall, To Be and To Have is also artfully put together. Using cutaways to the farm country and showing us the vicissitudes of the weather in the area the audience gets a good feeling of what it like to go to school in that part of the world.
If anything the film will remind everyone what it was like to go to primary or elementary school. The feeling of learning the simple things we now take for granted, the fear of getting a problem wrong, the fights with fellow students, the scoldings for not doing the work, as well as the laughter, the joy and ultimately the bond that is made between the teacher and the students at that age.
The documentary is beautifully shot in film and has an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Most of the scenes are shot with low light or natural light but that's fine because the schoolroom gets a good amount of light. There are a good many wonderful shots in the countryside that surrounds the school that lend a mood and a strong setting of place to the film.
Audio is in French stereo.
The best extra is a 30 minute interview with filmmaker Nicolas Philbert. In it he talks about why he chose the school, what things he did and even some directing that he had to do to make scenes work. There is also two trailers and one enjoyable extra of Children reciting poetry that is only about 3 minutes in length.
To Be and To Have is a very good documentary that captures the school year in a small schoolhouse in France. The film is slow paced capturing the farm country, has an impressionistic feel and is quite charming. It's worth a look.