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Dissecting the Être et Avoir Movie

Dissecting the Être et Avoir Movie


Être et Avoir, which in English means To Be and to Have is a French documentary film that premiered in 2002. The film runs for about 104 minutes and centers on a small village school with one teacher in a class that has children of different ages (Philibert, 2002). The main objective of the documentary is to document activities of the students and their teacher through the learning experiences in the small town school located in the Auvergne region of France. The director, Nicolas Philibert, is a renowned French film director with immense experience in production. This documentary has won numerous accolades in France and internationally. It was nominated in the ‘Out of Competition’ category in the 2002 in the famous Cannes Film Festival. While making this successful feature, the producer and the crew followed a couple of students and their teacher around through the school year and they were able to capture various challenges that the students faced and the teacher’s dedication to the learning process. This essay relies on the movie Être et Avoir to briefly explore the form or approach that the director used to relay the story to the audience, social contexts presented in the story and general aesthetics applied in the film. Also, the essay presents a short critique based on the theme and social aspect of the documentary

The Film: Discussion

In the movie, the director uses a descriptive approach by documenting experiences and daily activities of the students and their teachers in a small town school. The documentary is an ethnographic film, in which experiences of the schoolchildren living in a small town with only one teacher are the center of focus. The director is especially interested in how these children interact with one another, and how the teacher helps them along in their interactions. The story focuses on the experiences of these children in a small town school with only one teacher catering for the learning needs of children of different ages. The challenges, experiences and the triumphs are especially brought out for the audience to appreciate. This documentary is suitable for general family viewing.

The director uses natural lighting to depict the environment in which his characters dwell. According to McKim (2013), this was specifically applied to aid the audience to relate with the situation in the movie. There is minimal camera movement since they need to capture the school setting with as little disturbance as possible. In the end, it can be appreciated that while there are very many interesting aspects of the school that present themselves in the film, the story is entirely real and very believable as well as entertaining. The subject is both adorable and sensitive, making the film appealing in many different contexts.

This story unfolds in a village setting within the Auvergne region in France, where there are not many people and the population is categorized as those of remote areas. The sociopolitical context exhibited in the movie shows a small town school and its stakeholders that appear ostracized and cut off from the mainstream society. The population in this town may follow French laws and live as the French, but they are primarily in their own corner of the world, living by their means and relying on dedicated volunteers like Mr. Lopez to educate their young ones and hopefully prepare them for the life in the mainstream society (Philibert, 2002). Rather than depend on interviews, the director simply observes his subjects and allows the audience to live in the moment and experience what learning and teaching in a small town school in France is like. Education is a subject that attracts a lot of attention, and when it is in a considerably developed country and resources are seen as scarce, even more people would be interested. The most appealing thing about this story, however, is the realism with which the whole subject is approached. The director was able to let the children tell their story, and in the end it becomes easier to follow. Every aspect of the story, including the conflicts that Mr. Lopez helps to resolve, the ghost stories told by the children to scare their classmates and the drawing lessons that they are given, contribute significantly to the story’s appeal as an ethnographic documentary.

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This film focuses not just on the children and teachers in small town schools, but also on the stakeholders and the surrounding community in general. This is evident when Mr. Lopez is presented as the only responsible teacher tasked with teaching all the students in the school (Philibert, 2002). However, in most village schools, teachers are the center of attraction for the public because they give so much to their students and, in most cases, get nothing in return. This may explain why the director felt the need to highlight the contribution that Mr. Lopez makes to the community as a whole. Most people here would expect the director to focus only on the children since they too have a story to tell, and indeed, to some extent, this director does pay attention to the children and their day-to-day musings. Larger significance is, however, given to the teacher, who, in this case, is actually the story’s principal subject.

The storyline is interesting, especially because when people talk about educational systems within a given country, they treat the subject like a simple one. They always fail to address the stunning differences in circumstances for the students in the system. However, this documentary allows the audience to really appreciate the experiences of the students in small towns and villages across France. While the experiences shown here may not be generalizable, it is possible that there are numerous small town schools in the country and in the world that have only one teacher. The story here may be one that most people cannot relate to, but they can appreciate it, owing to how real and touching it is.

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This documentary is set in a small town, with people who live amongst familiar faces and probably appreciate simple things in life like good weather and good people. This means that the background is that of simplicity and typical small town ideologies as well as expectations. This explains why the children in the film seem unique. Their social context is very different from that of schoolchildren in other parts of France and the world. The documentary especially dwells on the fact that the children in the story live in a small town. This means that the experiences and challenges shown are synonymous with those of children within this specific social context. The difficulty in learning and the role of the teacher in shaping how the students interact are both universal concepts. Students generally need a dedicated teacher, if they are to get the attention and guidance that they need in class and in the playground. This film especially shows how teachers can be helpful to their students in both classroom and social settings.

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Être et Avoir can be seen as a simplistic concept of narrating the story of a small town teacher and his students. One of the things about this film that stands out is the director’s reliance on natural light. The director seems to have appreciated the significance of minimal interference in an ethnographic film, where the subject of interest must be observed in as natural environment as possible. This makes the documentary both appealing and believable, meaning that it is relevant as a source of ethnographic information regarding schools in small towns in France, but it is also not too boring for a casual audience. As an ethnographic documentary, the film was able to provide an insight into the difficulties of teaching in a small town school with one teacher. The director, however, also ensured that the little triumphs that Mr. Lopez is able to enjoy in his little school are highlighted. His commitment and dedication represent the small town ambience accurately, where the society depends more on good will than on rules or regulations.

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