2019 Film Reviews - 10: Être Et Avoir [dir. Nicolas Philibert; 2002]
Coming back to Être Et Avoir - Nicolas Philibert’s deceptively gentle documentary about a year at a small school in an isolated corner of the Auvergne, complete with inspirational, Atticus-Finch-like teacher - what struck me most was the subjects’ awareness of the camera. Particularly in the film’s early segments, there are several moments when some of the children look directly at the viewer, either with a smile of embarrassment or an expression of slight puzzlement. It’s the artless self-consciousness of these instants that makes them notable, partly because they highlight how our collective relationship with the lens has changed in the last two decades - I’d imagine that the kids’ modern equivalents would play up to being recorded far more cannily - but also because they’re a testament to the respect Philibert has for the people who’ve permitted him to chronicle their lives. He allows them to become part of the documentary-making process (see his Every Little Thing (1997) for more of this approach) and, together with all the other well-observed details into their world, creates an unforgettable picture of a time and place that now seems hopelessly beyond our reach… not least in terms of a more human, more trusting attitude towards education.