To Be and To Have

Nicolas Philibert has said “I make a film with my subjects, not about them.” Tonight, as we begin a four-day focus on his work, Philibert will discuss his vision for documentary film, followed by a screening of his most recent feature.

(Être et avoir). “Etre” and “avoir” are the indispensable verbs in the French language; you simply can't do-or more precisely, have done-anything without them. Philibert's film on teaching, learning, and growing up in rural Auvergne asks: “How do you learn to live?” (To be). “How do you learn self-respect?” (To have). The film opens on an onrushing snowstorm as majestic trees ominously bob their icy crowns; meanwhile, in the warmth of a one-room school, two tortoises make their slow safe way across the floor, one foot in front of the other. This is pretty much how learning takes place in the safe domain of Georges Lopez and his pupils ranging from wide-eyed four-year-olds to wide-girthed preteens. French films have never pretended that childhood is carefree or even a time of happiness. Rather, Philibert captures the kids and their teacher in thought and in play, always working at it, always learning, and calls this love.

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