Georges Lopez’s art is teaching: For more than 20 years, until his retirement last year in his mid 50s, he was the lone schoolmaster in a single-classroom elementary school deep in France’s Auvergne region. Nicolas Philibert’s art is nonfiction filmmaking: He observed Lopez and his class of a dozen children, ages 3 to 11, between December 2000 and June 2001, taking time to watch the seasons change and the farming chores get done at their homes, too. The result, To Be and to Have, is so superb, so graceful, so strong – another beauty in this year of good documentaries – that I do believe it will influence career choices, sending inspired viewers to study pedagogy, or cinematography.
With his courtly patience and old-school lesson plans, Lopez is, of course, a kind of role model. Philibert’s talent is in making Lopez no more special than the children, and the children no more special than the extraordinary everydayness of their isolated, rural lives, each touched daily by the profound influence of a good teacher.