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Curzon on Demand: Etre et Avoir

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Arab Today, arab today Curzon on Demand: Etre et Avoir

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If you like being on the verge of tears – and who doesn\'t? – then the last in our Curzon on Demand series is tailored specifically for you. Être et Avoir is a documentary by Nicolas Philibert about a primary school in rural Auvergne. Well, it is in the sense that that\'s where it\'s shot. It\'s also about the relationship between the school\'s sole teacher, Georges Lopez, and the kids for whom he cares. In the sense that those are the most commonly recurring scenes. But, really, and even though M Lopez appears to be nothing short of the ideal teacher (half pedagogue, half pastoral mentor), this film feels almost like it\'s floating above its situation, its real subject the beauty and complexity of the human being. If that sounds a bit gushy, that\'s probably because I only stopped watching Être et Avoir a short while ago and I still feel a little choked up. But while this film, in certain circumstances, could be argued to be a tribute to vocational devotion or a paean to rural life, to me it appeared to be utterly disinterested in conveying a message; too fascinated by the glory in the quotidian to care about getting didactic. Lingering on the face of a young boy (a \"little one\" called Johann) as he tries to process what\'s going on around him. Hanging at the end of a corridor as two more little ones try to act grownup and operate a photocopier, only to break the thing. (A repairman is later observed from the same spot.) The fields in spring and summer. The bravery of young Olivier as he attempts to discuss his father\'s cancer in a mature way, only for the effort, and the strength of feeling, to force him into tears. The collective act of maths homework performed around a rustic dinner table, as Olivier\'s friend and rival Julien struggles with his arithmetic. These moments and the emotions they inspire in the viewer are, I think, what this film is really about. A reminder of our common humanity. That such a stream of tender intimacy could also be put to the use of venerating the French way of life was a happy coincidence that led to Être et Avoir (the only auxiliary, or \"helping\", verbs in French, you see) being a massive box-office hit in its own country. But any inferred moral was dispelled somewhat when success was followed by M Lopez bringing a lawsuit. He claimed he was owed money by the producers because of the extent to which his image was used to sell the film. He also said that he thought the documentary had been intended purely for educational purposes. Anyone who watches the final, tearjerking shot as Lopez bids goodbye to his children will know that second claim could never have stood up. He went on to lose his case.

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