To Be and To Have (2002)

To Be and To Have (2002)

A deeply charming school-set documentary that overflows with all the warmth and wonder of its subjects

The Very Best



Documentary, Drama
104 min


Come for the wholesome portrait of an inspiring teacher, stay for a four-year-old losing his cool at a photocopier.

What it's about

A rollercoaster year in the classroom of Monsieur Lopez, a teacher in rural France.

The take

This gorgeous documentary opens on the snowy fields of its rural French setting, but the single classroom it spends much of its time in couldn’t be warmer or more inviting. That comforting atmosphere — which the film imbibes, too — is all thanks to the kindness and patience of Monsieur Lopez, the man responsible for the education of all of the village’s kids (up to age 11). Chronicling the final year of his career before retirement, this doc shares the instinctive empathy its chief subject has for his pupils and, accordingly, shoots them quite simply, trusting that the high drama of their little lives is enough to sustain the film.

And it is: from the cheeky antics of happy-go-lucky four-year-old Jojo to the crippling anxiety of older kids grappling with parental illness and the terrifying move to middle school, we’re plunged deep into a full spectrum of raw emotion. Inspiringly, Monsieur Lopez doesn’t just teach the kids maths and spelling — he also gently coaches them in off-syllabus skills, like talking about feelings and reconciling differences (even turning a fraught relationship between two boys into loyal friendship by the end of the year). There’s so much to learn from him and his perpetually wonderstruck kids here.

What stands out

Monsieur Lopez is the obvious MVP of To Be and To Have, but little Jojo is a close runner-up. Director Nicolas Philibert gives the pint-sized four-year-old generous screen time, correctly recognizing that the size of his personality demands it. Whether it’s his seemingly endless awe at the fact there exists a number bigger than 1000 (and 1001, 1002, etc., etc.) or his frustration as he tries to work a photocopier ten times his size, Jojo is a constant scene-stealer, and could single-handedly convert even the most cold-hearted viewer into an ardent fan of this doc.


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