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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Etre et Avoir (To Be and to Have)
Etre et Avoir (To Be and to Have)
Seville Pictures // Unrated // October 14, 2003
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Don Houston | posted September 14, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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Movie: I admit to liking obscure movies and documentaries that most people don't get a chance to see. It's a desire to check out releases that are off the beaten track rather than rush to the flavor-of-the-moment that the masses seem to prefer. I got a chance to view a French documentary, To Be And To Have (AKA: Etre Et Avoir), and left scratching my head, even though it was wildly acclaimed by the press overseas.

The show details a small classroom in a little French town where a single man, Georges Lopez, playing himself, teaches a group of students from kindergarten to junior high in the small school. The idea is that such a setting allows the children to learn more than just a compartmentalized lesson plan, they also learn the social skills needed throughout their lives. As a guy who has lived in a city setting all his life, where schools typically are crammed with huge numbers of kids that are all but warehoused in a regimented system, I thought it was an interesting setting to teach and learn.

The premise of the show was to display a handful of students as they went through the rigors of learning. The director, Nicolas Philibert, followed George and the kids around, filming over 600 hours for this documentary. He shows the younger students learning the basic skills such as writing and spelling, the mid-level students learning grammar, and the ones about to move along the social skills needed to survive at secondary school and college. If that sounds a bit boring, you'd be half right.

The fact is, while the children were cute, if somewhat retarded, there was nothing much going on here. There wasn't any real theme other than to show one form of education, one that wouldn't work in most of the world due to the lack of teachers and the urban nature of most schools. If you watched a random group of kids at school, on a random day, you'd likely find more of interest to watch. Mr. Lopez is the one who makes the school work and he discussed retiring after 20 years, which made me wonder how successful such schools are when the teacher is less talented than he seemed to be.

I liked the idea of such a school, no matter how impractical it would be for most students outside of third-world countries but the show really didn't convey any message to me. If it was an attempt to promote such schools, it fell short by having such a narrow focus and it came off like a student project for a Freshman film school short. I know a lot of people overseas praised this one endlessly but watching this was a lot like sitting beside a nice pond with ducks swimming by; it was okay to watch for a while but became tedious fairly fast. I'm suggesting it as a Rent It since I've come to the conclusion that people will either find this great or weak with little middle-ground.

Picture: The picture was presented in 1.66:1 ratio widescreen color. Most of the time, the picture looked clear and crisp with only minimal grain and video noise. It was originally filmed in 35 mm and the dvd transfer was solid.

Sound: The sound was presented in Dolby Digital stereo French with optional English subtitles. Most of the time the vocals were easily heard but since I don't speak French, I can't verify the accuracy of the subtitles.

Extras: There weren't any extras.

Final Thoughts: I suppose the whole point of the film was to advocate the educational system used by George here but aside from watching a bunch of kids at school, doing what kids everywhere do, there wasn't a lot going on to interest you. If you want to appear "hip" by seeing movies few will ever see, check this one out at a local art house showing or rent it. Who know, you may like it enough to buy it.

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