There still exists, dotted throughout rural France, one-room schools where all local children, ranging from 4 to 10, are taught by the same teacher in a single class. At times withdrawn, and other times embracing life, these kids share daily life, for better or for worse. This film was made in one of these schools, somewhere in the heart of the Auvergne region.
This observational documentary takes us through moments of school life and occasional home life in the Auvergne district in France. It's a rural area, beautiful, where Georges Lopez runs a school for thirteen pupils ranging in age from 4 to 11. Throughout the seasons Lopez coaxes, admonishes, teaches in a calm and encouraging voice. His pupils include the precocious and charming Jojo, the withdrawn Nathalie, the warring pair of Olivier and Julien. We learn that many of the parents of the pupils are ill-equipped to help them with their work, this is a farming district and the kids work after school in the cowsheds. But mainly the focus is on Lopez in the schoolroom.
The poignancy of this documentary lies in Lopez's connection to the children. We learn nothing of his private life, he seems to have none, which is why his imminent retirement adds a resonance to his life at school. These are his children. He is their teacher, their carer, the one concerned about their future. The filmmaker Nicolas Philibert presents images of the landscape, the winter ones are particularly beautiful, and the story of a number of miniature lives on screen with the focus very much on the significant adult in their lives.
The one lapse from observational mode is when the filmmaker interviews the teacher, and this moment does jar. It's not the facts that matter with this documentary, it's the inferences. It's a lovely, sweet experience.