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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » To Be and To Have
To Be and To Have
Kino // Unrated // September 30, 2014
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Oktay Ege Kozak | posted October 9, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The Movie:

To Be and to Have should be mandatory viewing for anyone who thinks teachers are spoiled brats mooching off the government's teat and that a CEO deserves to get more than 300 times the pay of an average worker. You might think I'm exaggerating but anytime pay cuts for teachers are put on the table, or there's any talk of disbanding teacher unions, the right-wing politicians and pundits immediately begin spewing out the disgusting talking points about how "Teachers take the summer off their cushy job and still get paid" and "They should be grateful for their jobs and not complain".

Sure, there are some bad apples in every bunch. There are teachers who abuse the job security provided to them by the unions and get by with the minimum amount of work, but they represent a miniscule minority within millions of people all around the world who do their absolute best to provide children with the bridge between childhood and young adulthood. After parents, teachers are the first adults that prepare our young for the future.

Director Nicolas Philibert's film was a big critical and box-office (At least for a documentary) success when it was released in 2002. It objectively follows teacher Georges Lopez as he instructs a wide range of students from preschool to middle school in every subject imaginable inside the rural and cold Auvergne region of France. The film doesn't provide any text or narration about Lopez or his students while the camera merely operates as a fly on the wall presence.

The day-to-day activities of the school are so effortlessly captured that it's easy to forget the existence of a camera and just let ourselves get captured by the film's realistic and empathetic flow. In fact, when the only on-camera interview in the entire documentary finally takes place around the one-hour mark, the experience can be rather jarring. As Lopez talks to Philibert about why he always wanted to become a teacher, it's hard not to expect a reveal that he's actually talking to another child or parent and not the director.

Philibert delicately acquaints the audience with the snow-covered farmland and the toughness of life in this region via simple establishing shots that take their time to settle in our minds. The film's slow-paced editing during the scenes depicting the day-to-day life in the region, in between the relative chaos inside a classroom full of children, requires a little bit of patience but allows the audience to eventually become intimately familiar with the world it depicts. The gorgeous 16mm cinematography delicately capturing each snowfall is a big plus.

However, Philibert's actual focus is Lopez himself, who works tirelessly to provide these low-income students with a teacher, headmaster, therapist, disciplinarian, and sometimes even a father figure, all by himself. Within a typical day, he teaches kids math, poetry, geometry and how to properly crack an egg in order to make crepes. Even with the most rowdy students he shows a tremendous amount of patience, restraints and mutual respect.

A sequence showing him breaking up a fight between two troubled male students and serenely explaining the pointlessness of their actions made me believe that if only he worked at the UN instead, he could have brought peace to the Middle East all by himself.

To Be and to Have doesn't praise or judge, it focuses on the daily activities of the class, yet within those scenes, the quiet moments and a gaze here and there between Lopez and his students lets us know how much they mean for each other. One of the final shots lingers on Lopez as he bids farewell to his children. The equal sense of loss and accomplishment on his face creates a moment that could hardly be replicated by fiction.

The DVD:

The Video:

In order to observe what a spectacular standard definition transfer this DVD showcases, one doesn't have to look further than the interview featurette provided as a special feature. Some of the clips shown during the interview, probably coming from a previous video transfer, look faded and lacks definition. The film's cinematography mostly uses natural light to capture some gorgeous images of the region and the healthy amount of grain on the transfer gives it a warm, ethereal look, despite the coldness of the location. Unfortunately, To Be and to Have is available on Blu-Ray only in Europe.

The Audio:

The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is efficient in capturing the overlapping, excited speech patterns of the children. There's very little non-diagetic music and when it pops up, the mix is handled with adequate balance. All in all, not an amazing audio experience but a satisfactory one.

The Extras:

Interview With Nicolas Philibert: During this 20-minute interview, Philibert talks about the technical decisions during production and how he gained the students' trust. It's an interesting interview, if only it wasn't presented in that annoying 16:9 letterboxed within a 4:3 aspect ratio.

Poetry Recitation: A 2-minute deleted scene where Lopez teaches a poem to a couple of kids.

We also get a Trailer, as well as Three Trailers for Philibert's other films.

Final Thoughts:

To Be and to Have is a touching experience about the importance of a good teacher when it comes to the development of any child. Coming from a poor region, perhaps these kids will not become huge successes and most of them will likely end up in the family business as farmers, but Lopez's influence on their emotional maturity will last a lifetime.

Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com

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